Allstate Agent Steals Show

Nov 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Meet Dean De Angelis, human product placement.

Mr. De Angelis’ other job-very much related to his product placement gig-is selling insurance for Allstate. As the result of an unusual advertising deal, he appeared, representing Allstate, in vignettes that are shown during a late commercial break in “It Takes a Thief.” The insurance giant is a sponsor of the show, which features two former burglars-turned-security consultants-Jon Douglas Rainey and Matt Johnston-who show families how easy it is to break into their homes.

Walk into Mr. De Angelis’ insurance agency in New Lenox, Ill., and you’ll see a poster for the program “It Takes a Thief,” which is seen weekdays in early fringe on the Discovery Channel. Ask about the poster or say that you recognize him from TV, and he’ll tell you how shooting his 30-second segments containing tips for homeowners looking to avoid having their valuables stolen took about 1%BD; hours each and how some days stretched from 7:30 in the morning till 10 p.m.

“I worked harder that week than I work in my agency,” Mr. De Angelis said. He’ll joke about another aspect of his 15 minutes of fame. “I gotta admit, it was the first time I’ve ever had makeup [on] in my life. And I want to tell you, [it will be] the last time.”

And if he thinks you might want to buy insurance, he’ll give you a free DVD of his appearances on Discovery, courtesy of Allstate.

For sponsors that are increasingly looking for more than the traditional 30-second spot to deliver their marketing message, networks are offering new and different ways to be integrated into programs. So when Discovery approached media buyer Starcom with some ideas about sponsorship opportunities in “It Takes a Thief,” the agency knew the show was a good fit for Allstate, but it wanted more out of the deal.

“When it came to us it was kind of your typical sponsorship package, and then we started to kind of mold it and [add] some of the things you’re seeing today on the air,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior VP and director of Starcom Entertainment. Before the agency would take it to the client, “We wanted to have deeper integration into this property than just a billboard,” she said.

One potential snag was a pilot had already appeared on-air, and about 32 of the series’ 40 episodes were already shot. “But we wanted to take it and make it more Allstate-relevant and -branded, and that’s where we got we got involved,” said Blaise D’Silva, director of media integration for Allstate. “They had tips in the show, but we turned them into the Allstate protection tips and we got our agents involved in actually helping them demonstrate the tip.”

Making the changes Allstate wanted required an extraordinary effort, and Discovery complied.

“We really needed [Discovery] to re-engage with the producers and reformat the show,” Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said. “And then there were a lot of rights issues that come into play and talent rights and having our agents interact with [the series hosts, Mr. Rainey and Mr. Johnston]. That’s typically not done on television, so that was very unique.” The segments taped with Mr. De Angelis and the series hosts can be seen on Allstate’s Web site at dsc.discovery.com/fansites/ittakesathief/bios/bios.html.

Ms. Davis said Discovery picked up the costs of reshooting the tips segment of the show.

“It took a lot of effort, but I think it’s the right thing to do for Allstate. Allstate is a great client and they are spending a lot more money,” said Joe Abruzzese, president of ad sales for Discovery Networks U.S.

Mr. Abruzzese said clients sometimes are sold into shows before they’re produced and they’re not always satisfied with the result. “Or you can produce the show, the client says, ‘I love it. I want into it,’ and you have to re-edit. That’s what happened here.” The cost, he said, wasn’t prohibitive.

The reshoot was done by the show’s producers, Lion Television. “We needed to do that for continuity within the show, and it had the same editing style, the same artistic look,” Starcom’s Ms. Caraccioli-David said. Using real agents with experience in home security advice added credibility to the program. “The producers were really engaged once they realized that Allstate was bringing a lot more to the table than just a media schedule for Discovery,” she said.

Mr. D’Silva declined to say exactly how much Allstate paid for the sponsorship package and integration, though he divulged that “In exchange for doing this, we made a bigger commitment to Discovery as part of our overall advertising spend. So by spending more with Discovery, they gave us the opportunity to work with them in this branded entertainment space. We were able to invest some additional dollars, but the additional dollars went to getting us advertising time, and we got the branded entertainment as sort of a trade-off for spending additional monies with them on our regular advertising buy.” That buy bought spots in a broad range of Discovery programming, he said.

In 2004, Allstate spent $3.4 million in advertising on Discovery Channel, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

While some shows, like “The Apprentice,” feature senior executives of companies as part of a sponsorship deal, it’s unusual for rank and file workers to get this kind of attention.

Allstate wanted a real agent to appear on the show, so Allstate’s marketing department put out a casting call.

“Our marketing director gave me a call and asked me if it was something I would be interested in,” recalled Mr. De Angelis. “Never one to be shy, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.'”

After some 10 agents submitted questionnaires and photos, the company asked for a video. “My wife followed me around the house giving some tips, and I felt for sure after seeing that they would cut me out. But from there they chose me and another agent from Nashville, and off I went,” he said. A second Allstate agent, Scott Hall, is featured in half of the 20 vignettes.

Even with a script and cue cards, doing the part was harder than he expected. “I thought if I can just get my line right once, I’d be OK, but it wasn’t like that,” Mr. De Angelis said. “They threw a couple of wrinkles in there. They changed some of the words. And if I did happen to get the line right once, they wanted it from different camera angles too.”

He helped change some of the scripts, based on his experiences in the field. One tip warned homeowners not to give too much information to delivery people, which is the kind of caution he’s very familiar with. Just before leaving for the New Jersey shoot, a customer’s home was broken into. As it happened, the customer had a big-screen TV delivered a few weeks earlier. She had told the delivery people that she’d take off a day to meet them, she lived in a very quiet neighborhood and usually there was no one around.

“That’s way too much information to give to somebody you don’t know,” Mr. De Angelis said.

Mr. De Angelis wasn’t paid for his performances, but Allstate sent a letter to his customers explaining that he was going to be on TV. A local paper wrote up the story. “I got a lot of positive feedback and business referrals,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal that really, really, helped me,” he said.

Mr. D’Silva said it is still too early to evaluate how well “It Takes a Thief” performed overall as a marketing vehicle for the company.

“The idea for us was to go in and deliver a branded entertainment opportunity that would be consistent with our overall communication strategy,” he said. “We wanted to have a top-quality program that presented Allstate in a very positive and engaging and relevant environment to reach our consumers in an unexpected and interesting way. And I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Ratings data and the number of hits on a Web site connected to the show will help evaluate how effective the show was and give the company a benchmark to measure future branded entertainment opportunities, he said: “With all the elements that we got, with
the agents and integration, it’s a great starting point.”

Mr. D’Silva said it’s too soon to say whether Allstate will sign up for another season of “It Takes a Thief.” If it does, a new set of agents will be chosen to deliver the tips during the show.

Ms. Caraccioli-Davis fields many sponsorship opportunities pitched to Allstate, and a lot of them involve little more than Allstate giving out a big check at the end of an event, she said. “That’s what I think is so unique about this, that we’re still able to put a personality around the Allstate brand by integrating the agents. “

Mr. Abruzzese didn’t think a client could be embedded more deeply into a show. “This one was looked after by corporate to make sure it fit our standards,” he said. He thought adding the agent made it a better show for viewers and served Allstate as well.

“Anytime we can deliver something that gets the client’s message to the right viewer organically, that’s a win for us and a win for the client. It’s when you force it that it doesn’t work,” he said.

Of course, with so much integration going on, some viewers are getting turned off.

“I think if you turn on prime-time television on any given evening, you’ll find a lot of brands that bully their way into the content and don’t have a real reason for being there,” Ms. Caraccioli-David said. “And they’re not adding value to the content and they’re not adding value for the viewer, and I think those are the ones we’re starting to see the backlash against.