Auto Insurer Offers Savings On More Than Car Insurance

Feb 9th, 2009 | By Hot News Reporter | Category: Insurance Today

(Dow Jones) –¬†Allstate Corp. (ALL) hopes to refashion its good hands image into a helping hand for anxious consumers: Anyone visiting an Allstate Web site can print out a free one-day pass to Sam’s Club, the discount warehouse owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT).

The main message “is to demonstrate we are not only helping to make insurance more affordable, but to make other areas of life more affordable too,” said Lisa Cochrane, vice president of marketing at Allstate, in a recent interview.Normally Sam’s Club charges shoppers a membership fee. Allstate’s Web site also offers other specially negotiated discounts on goods and services.

With the economy running on empty, consumers have begun cutting back even on essential expenses like insurance to cover their homes and cars. Some are dropping coverage altogether; others are reducing their premiums by switching to more basic coverage or raising deductibles. So insurers have to fight for business, even in the downturn. This pull-back will force insurers to change and perhaps even increase their advertising, even as many other market segments pull back.

While auto insurers have long promoted cost savings, the emphasis has lately been ramped up. Geico, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB), has given its popular caveman advertising characters, and their message of ease of use, a break. Current advertisements focus on a new image: A stack of money that represents how much drivers could save if they buy Geico. Progressive Corp. ( PGR) also runs ads touting savings for customers.

Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that auto insurers have been increasing their advertising spending for around a decade, reaching a record of around $4.1 billion in 2007.

He expects that total to rise slightly in 2008, or perhaps stay flat, but he doubts it will drop, even though overall premium growth in the industry was negative in 2007 and 2008.

A recent study by the Insurance Research Council estimates that by 2010, 16.1% of drivers may be uninsured, up from 13.8% in 2007.

“Some insurers are recasting themselves,” as the market weakens, the Insurance Information Institute’s Hartwig said, to “emphasize affordability” in the down economy.

On a new Web site Allstate launched to help consumers save money, the company trumpets that it has been around since the Great Depression, and knows something about hard times. “We’ve protected America through twelve recessions. We’ll all get through this one, too,” its Web site says.

In addition to the Sam’s Club offer, Allstate offers discounts on restaurant gift cards as well as more general tips on saving money.

One money-saving suggestion is to visit a department store for free perfume samples rather than buy it. “A spritz or two of your favorite sample on your neck and you’re set,” the Web site suggests.

Cochrane said, “It is all designed to let people know that Allstate gets it. We have experience in tough times.”

Longtime Allstate television spokesman and actor Dennis Haysbert will promote the Sam’s Club and other discounts on television commercials. Other commercials have Haysbert naming rival insurers and how much drivers saved when they switched their auto insurance to Allstate.

Cochrane said Allstate is looking for other deals it can pass along to consumers as bad times spread.

Sam’s Club spokeswoman Susan Koehler called the Allstate free-pass partnership a “pilot” for the company, and said it may expand on the theme by partnering with other companies to offer consumers a break.

As insurers narrow the focus on saving money, some Allstate ads even suggest that customers switch insurers mid-policy, which most consumers didn’t bother to do in better times.

“You don’t have to wait for your policy to expire,” said Cochrane of the new message. “We can start saving you money right away.”

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