Lately I’ve been noticing a couple new life insurance commercials on TV. I don’t know if these are running nationally — perhaps so; they’re on national cable channels — but they’re certainly running at least in the Northeast. First, there is a new SelectQuote ad — these guys’ve been running TV commercials for years now, so nothing really out of the ordinary here — but I’ve also been seeing a new and different spot from MetLife. This is not the Peanuts characters ads that you saw MetLife run during football (not futbol) season. Actually, this is very much like the traditional SelectQuote TV ad. In fact, you could easily drop in either company’s ID info over the soundtrack and they’d be virtually indistinguishable. (Unfortunately neither company has uploaded these yet to YouTube, and no one else has hijacked them to the site, but I’m sure they’ll show up there eventually — what doesn’t?)
The point? Well, it’s an important one, I think. They’re all about price — not so much how inexpensive (cheap) the coverage is, although that is certainly emphasized, but price as such. That is to say, both ads are meant to educate the couch potato about the size of the breadbox, which, not too surprisingly, is the single biggest mystery about life insurance and thus the single biggest reason that so many are leery of talking with agents about the product. Yes, there are quite a few reasons — or excuses, as the industry likes to say — why people are hesitant to buy these products. But the #1 reason is simply ignorance about price: What is this going to cost me? People really don’t know and, when cajoled to offer an estimate, routinely peg it at three times the actual cost, or so says LIMRA.
There’s a reason why price quote/aggregator sites (like SelectQuote, IntelliQuote, NetQuote, etc.) were first out of the gate in the early days of Internet commercialization, and why they still dominate PPC life insurance search results (often along with Allstate, Progressive, Geico, and State Farm!). They’re opening the kimono on cost, indubitably the single-most secretive aspect of the life insurance buying process, at least as that process has been dictated by the big agency companies. Of course, the stated reason behind the big guys’ reluctance to offer price quotes, or to talk about cost at all, is to prevent product commoditization: These products are simply too important to be sullied in discussion by talk of dollars and cents. A noble intention, I’m sure, but I also think the process also reflects a lack of real belief in the value of the products themselves, given that they are virtually undistinguishable feature-wise within their categories and, of course actually differ very little in price. In other words, they’ve already been commoditized and we don’t want to people to know that. Not to mention the cold-shiver-and–hot-sweat-inducing fear that providing price quotes would eventually, inevitably, open the door to, God forbid, direct sales.
When I was at New York Life, we went so far as to feature an advisory on the front page of our site: “Looking for a Quote? Not at New York Life!” Hell, I wrote the thing, so I guess it was actually my mea culpa for failing to convince my superiors that we should grasp the opportunity to educate the public about price; it was simply the best I could make of a bad, and stupid, situation. Quite stupid, in fact, as this particular piece of purple prose, I’m reliably informed, was one of the major factors leading MetLife to accept the implied challenge and begin offering, first, sample quotes, then actual individual quotes and, finally, sell the damn product online. (So, yeah, the execs were right: Give these Internet guys an inch and they’ll take a country mile…)
I remember sitting at a presentation at the New York Yacht Club — BTW, never turn down an invite to see the Yacht Club! — unveiling MetLife’s then brand-new “If” TV commercial campaign. Our host, MetLife’s CMO at the time, took a question, undoubtedly planted, about, of all things, price quotes, and answered — I will never forget these exact words, even if she certainly has by now: You’d be surprised how much life insurance you can sell if you tell people how much it costs.
To say that I was more than flabbergasted to hear this from a MetLife bigwig is to significantly understate the case, even if I had been endlessly promoting the sentiment (and prediction!) internally for a good long time. Certainly this was something our brethren in the P&C business had known and acted on for years already, but it was not a sentiment you’d likely hear — publicly, anyway — from the big agency carriers. Looking for a quote? Not at New York Life (or the Met, or Pru, or Northwestern, or MassMutual, or Guardian, or Hancock…)
So, back to the SelectQuote and MetLife TV commercials: Nothing revolutionary, perhaps, certainly not today, but still very important because, you guessed it, this is the age of taking action — oops, wrong product — no, it’s because you shouldn’t be at all surprised by how much life insurance you can sell when you tell people what it costs.
A Note: MetLife has more or less completed its latest Web site strategic evolution, existing now almost solely, from a business point of view, to facilitate direct sales. And New York Life now offers not only price quotes, but direct sales as well. (The latter is horribly done, by the way, but that’s a subject for another post.)