Stars aren't shy to shill for this brand

Celebs are like a good neighbor to State Farm

A-listers like Cameron Diaz and Denzel Washington don’t often appear in ads, but State Farm has managed to wrangle those stars and others to, in effect, tout its services.

Since June 5, the insurance brand has benefited by having those stars and others, including Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel and Teri Hatcher, appear in a branded entertainment segment on the syndicated "Entertainment Tonight" with State Farm’s imprimatur.

The segment, which is called the State Farm Being There Profile, shows those stars talking about moments when someone was there for them. For instance, Heigl, who was on ET to promote her movie "The Ugly Truth," talked about how her mother, Nancy, provided her with invaluable help in the early stages of her acting career.

Washington, who was promoting  "The Taking of Pelham 123," talked about how his wife, Pauletta, always provides comfort for him, no matter what happens in his career. Such interviews run as long as two minutes and State Farm’s affiliation is noted several times.

Mark Gibson, assistant vp of advertising for State Farm, said the idea is to target ad-skippers with DVRs. The content of the segments, based on the Being There platform that State Farm launched in the spring, is meant to provide an association with the brand, though it’s far from a hard sell.

“'Entertainment Tonight' is managing the editorial content of what we do, and they’re very protective about it,” Gibson said. “They’ve done an awesome job of picking celebrities with emotionally resonant stories.”

DDB, Chicago, which created the Being There ads, worked with media-buying agency OMD to put the deal together. Gabe McDonough, senior producer of music and integration at DDB, said a rep from the show approached him about a segment, but stipulated that “it had to provide meaningful content for their show. They didn’t want to have something that’s just tacked on.” McDonough added that the tone of 'ET’s' show also helped. “It's not TMZ,” he said. “It's very positive.”

State Farm has dabbled with branded entertainment before, most notably with its sponsorship of ESPN's Road Trip, a segment on the sports network.

State Farm has the latitude to experiment. In contrast to the struggling banking industry, insurance is in good shape right now, earning its “recession-proof” image, said Ellen Carney, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. “You might think it’s all gloom and doom right now, but the insurance trade is doing well. In fact, it’s become sexy,” she said.

Spending for the category underscores that point. Last year, the industry spent $3.3 billion on measured media, per the Nielsen Co., a 6.8 percent jump over 2007. State Farm spent $387 million in 2008 and $161 million from January to May of this year. Those figures do not include Internet advertising spending.