TBWA’s Walter Connelly and Carrie Lipper talk to Laura Swinton about an emotive campaign that defies convention for Travelers
At a time when press and politicians alike are stoking up intergenerational divisions, pitting boomers against millennials against Gen Z, there’s something comforting about the emotionally resonant new campaign for US insurance brand Travelers from TBWA\Chiat\Day NY. It speaks to a human truth that goes deeper than transient, divisive chatter – that people, fundamentally, care.
Woven through four spots, directed by Lance Acord, is a thread of caring that pulls together children, parents and grandparents as they experience the ups and downs of life.
“It was a good time to put something like this out with all the divisiveness out there it shows that people do actually care for each other,” reflects ECD Walter Connelly.
It’s Travelers' first big brand campaign since 2015 and the client was keen put out something that told a bigger, emotional story, explains group account director Carrie Lipper. “Travelers have always been a company that sets themselves apart with their commitment to caring and that is something that has run through their veins since the very beginning. It was evident in their campaign from 2015 but they came to us and said they really needed to put something out into the world that really showed what Travelers message is and that’s their commitment to care for their communities, their customers and each other,” explains Carrie.
That desire also allowed the agency to defy the norms of insurance advertising – wacky comedy spots heavy on policy and promotion. ”What we do at TBWA is look at the conventions in the category, a lot of our competitors were funny. They used humour to address the quick fix of the insurance problem and Travelers wanted to make sure that they were there for the long haul,” says Carrie.
And that ‘long haul’ is reflected in nuanced stories that span years, even decades. A mother and daughter share singalongs and frosty fights over a lifetime of car journeys. A young girl with an artistic spark struggles to share her passion with her restaurateur parents. An older man shares the secrets of his hardware shop with his granddaughter as she grows into the business with him. A new father makes a nursery chair that stands strong through the rough and tumble of childhood. And while the characters come up against bumps and tragedy along the way, the love they have for each other gets them through.
With these very nuanced stories, it was important not to plonk the brand into the middle of them, awkwardly. Human truth was paramount. “We really looked hard for authentic stories,” says Walter. “We did go through a lot of scripts to get to those four and one thing we found along the way is that Travelers has a role in those stories. It’s the conduit in some ways, not the major star. The major star is the people caring for each other.”
Key to the campaign, say Carrie and Walter, is the nature of the relationship with the team at Travelers. Given the common complaint that creative agencies are no longer invited to the client C-suite, it’s telling and pretty unusual that the collaboration and conversation on this project went all the way to Travelers’ CEO.
“You’ve heard many times that great work comes out of a great relationship between client and agency. This is a perfect example of the push and pull of a great relationship and what you can achieve with it,” says Carrie.
From a creative point of view, that trust and closeness allowed the team to really perfect and polish the work. “You don’t get to this work with the first try. You need to keep going back,” says Walter, who explains that the client’s understanding of the creative process meant they weren’t pressured to just dash out a couple of quick scripts. Instead they were able to carefully craft the stories and get them to a place where they would have real emotional heft.
And that crafting process paid off unexpectedly – the client loved the story options that the TBWA team presented so much that they decided to commission not just the two or three films that they had originally intended to make – but four. In turn, that trust drove the team even further. “It meant that we had to get them right, too. If someone trusts you that much you say, ‘ok we’re going to sweat this’,” says Walter.
That’s part of the reason the agency chose director Lance Acord to helm the spots. Not only is emotional authenticity very much his wheelhouse, but he was so determined to get films just right that he stayed involved in the project right through until completion. (While that’s standard practice in the rest of the world, in the US it’s highly unusual for a director to remain on board after the shoot).
With four spots to shoot over twelve days, the production for the campaign was a huge undertaking. There was a cast and crew of hundreds and for Walter, the experience felt like shooting a feature film. But, again, that client relationship saved that epic shoot from feeling like an endurance test – the Travelers team was open and collaborative during the preparation phase. Walter recalls that the only down day saw the entire team – agency, production, crew and client – gather together in a bar to watch the season premiere of Game of Thrones. It’s an experience that sounds like a giant gang of friends celebrating with each other.
In the end, the behind-the-scenes story reflects the message on screen. The message about care, about understanding and human connection.