Chris Paul's latest Commercial

By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS player Chris Paul has an impressive record for assists, or passing the ball to a teammate who scores, including leading the N.B.A. in assists for two consecutive seasons beginning with the 2007-8 season. Now State Farm is introducing an advertising campaign featuring Paul that promotes its agents as being willing to assist, too.
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Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers will play himself and his fictional twin, Cliff, in a new campaign for State Farm Insurance.
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The insurance giant hopes to lure younger customers used to Web-based commerce into its brick-and-mortar offices.
A new commercial takes a separated-at-birth approach, opening with a scene from 1985 of Chris Paul in a crib beside his fictional identical twin brother, “Cliff.”

“Despite their dissimilar upbringings, they shared one invaluable trait,” intones a voice-over. “They were both born to assist.”

The commercial juxtaposes the two boys being of assistance. The boys are played at different ages by a series of actors, with Cliff Paul wearing Clark Kent eyeglasses at each age.

At 8 years old, Chris Paul makes a behind-the-back pass with a grapefruit-size basketball in a living room while Cliff Paul extends a hand to a girl who has taken a spill on her Big Wheel on the sidewalk. At about 15, Chris makes another behind-the-back pass playing basketball in a driveway, and Cliff manages to catch a portable CD player, which a girl has dropped, before it hits the ground, tossing it to her behind his back.

Contemporary footage shows Chris Paul in his Clippers uniform hustling down a court, while Cliff (now, naturally, played by Paul, in glasses, a fake mustache, an argyle sweater vest and a bow tie), who has become a State Farm agent, assists a woman whose car has been hit and tosses doughnuts to co-workers in a State Farm office.

The commercial closes with the two characters accidentally bumping one another as Cliff exits a State Farm office elevator and Chris enters it. Both turn around; as they both register the uncanny resemblance, the elevator door closes.

“When assisting is in your blood, you know it,” the voice-over says. “Find a State Farm agent to help you get to a better state.”

The commercial is by Translation, an independent agency based in New York. It will be introduced on Christmas Day, running widely during N.B.A. games on networks including ESPN and TNT. Spending for the new campaign is estimated at $35 million to $40 million.

The 30- and 60-second versions of the commercial will run on television, while 15-second versions will run online on Web sites including YouTube and ESPN.com. Paul will promote the campaign on Twitter, where he has more than 1.5 million followers, and the insurer also is creating a Twitter account for the fictional Cliff Paul. (Oddly, Cliff Paul was separated from his biological family at birth and yet still shares their surname.)

Now in its fourth season as an N.B.A. sponsor, State Farm has featured LeBron James in earlier commercials. The new campaign, called “Born to Assist,” will run concurrently with commercials featuring the N.F.L. quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who began appearing in spots for the insurer in 2011.

In contrast to insurers like Geico, with whom consumers shop for insurance online and by calling a toll-free number, State Farm, founded in 1922, still relies mainly on a traditional agency model, with bricks-and-mortar offices and nearly 18,000 agents in the United States and Canada.

The new campaign featuring Paul “was born out of the fact that the No. 1 thing that agents do for customers is help them figure out what to do,” said Pam El, marketing vice president at State Farm.

Steve Stoute, the founder and chief executive of Translation, said “there was a natural relationship between assisting on the court and State Farm’s best-of-class service in assisting customers.”

State Farm leads the private passenger auto insurance market, with an 18.6 percent share of the market in 2011, followed by Allstate, with a 10.3 percent share, and Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Geico, with a 9.1 percent share, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. State Farm also led the homeowners insurance market, with a 21.3 percent share.

Geico, however, tops the list for advertising expenditures, spending nearly $1 billion in 2011, followed by State Farm, with $814 million, and Allstate, with $745 million, according to SNL Financial, a financial data provider.

With its direct-response and online model, Geico incurs lower overhead expenses than companies like State Farm, and according to SNL it also tends to spend less than 1 percent of its revenue from premiums on commissions, considerably lower than the industry average of more than 10 percent. With its savings on overhead, Geico can spend a much higher percentage of its premiums on advertising, spending 6.51 percent on advertising in 2011, contrasted with 1.7 percent by State Farm and 3.1 percent by Allstate, according to SNL.

State Farm “is still the 800-pound gorilla in terms of personal auto insurance and personal home insurance,” said Matt Koppenheffer, a senior analyst at the Motley Fool, an investment Web site.

But as consumers book online with popular sites like Travelocity and Orbitz, travel agencies have become relics, and Mr. Koppenheffer said the challenge for State Farm was to prevent insurance agencies from meeting the same fate.

“With younger consumers, the Web is the first stop for everything,” said Mr. Koppenheffer. “So this idea of going to an insurance agent that’s in a bricks-and-mortar office is going to feel a little foreign to them.”

Ms. El, the State Farm marketer, said advertising to N.B.A. fans enabled the insurer to highlight its on-the-ground insurance agents to a youthful, diverse group of consumers.

“N.B.A. audiences are very young and heavily African-American and Latino, and allow us to really go hard after a multicultural audience,” Ms. El said. “And we believe that Chris Paul is going to be attractive to those fans.”

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