In short, Press Releases remain an effective tool and an essential part of your PR and communications strategy.

And to reiterate, every press release contains information that’s newsworthy – your new innovation or solution to a problem that will interest journalists and in turn their audiences.

Press Releases are not a joke – and when you treat them as such, the joke ends up being on you.

That’s what Allstate found out. This is one case when they “didn’t know a thing or two” because they “hadn’t seen a thing or two”…

Allstate’s Astrology Joke + Auto Accident Rates = NOT Funny

Inspired by recent changes to the zodiac calendar that altered the range of birthdates for each of the signs, Allstate decided to make a joke out of a press release. The idea was to link astrological signs and their associated personality traits to accident rates.1

Well, the joke fell flat, and Allstate end up retracting the press release and issued an apology.

For example, Allstate produced data that showed Virgos were 700% less likely to be in an accident as compared to Scorpios, whom the press release described as having “overly cautious and timid driving habits.” They even made sure to be quite thorough, even describing Ophiuchus, the new zodiac sign that was added to cover those born between November 29 and December 17. Those born under that sign were determined as being the second safest group of drivers.2

While the insurance provider did use real birth data they had collected from their own customers, the “conclusions” they drew were purely in jest.

Well, apparently, the press wasn’t in on the joke, or they thought it was indeed funny enough for their audiences.

In any case, where they wanted to have a little bit of fun with data, they didn’t anticipate the confusion it would end up causing, as some were inadvertently led to believe that astrological signs were a factor in the underwriting process.

To be clear, astrology played absolutely no part in Allstate’s underwriting, but their original press release apparently did leave room for interpretation, as they soon discovered.

The joke ended up being on Allstate; the kudos for the cleverness they hoped the media would give them instead became characterized as a clumsy PR blunder it turned out to be:

 

Huffington Post: Allstate Retracts Failed Zodiac Joke

AOL: Can Zodiac Signs Predict Safe Drivers?

Ragan’s PR Daily: Allstate’s retracts press release, apologizes

 

Wisely, the auto insurance provider retracted their less than serious news press release and promptly issued a follow-up release, this one completely no-nonsense:

“Astrological signs have absolutely no role in how we base coverage and set rates.  Rating by astrology would not be actuarially sound.  We realize that our hard-working customers view their insurance expense very seriously. So do we.”3

While that was the right move for this moment of crisis, the misunderstanding they inadvertently created, however good-natured the intent, but unfortunately misplaced.

Ironically, Allstate received plenty of attention but for all the wrong reasons. But their innocent blunder brings to the forefront the importance of using press releases for the right reasons.

We’ve seen humor being used quite a bit in the insurance industry – GEICO’s Gecko ads, Farmer’s Hall of Claims, and yes, even Allstate’s “Mayhem” commercials. That’s perfectly acceptable – they’re not news.

Press Releases specifically are meant provide that hard news – Not puffery, or messaging on how awesome you are, marketing hyperbole and of course, never, or as a space to try out your comedy routine. Creativity is fine – punchy headlines, innovative formatting, but the priorities still apply.

Allstate, for a moment, lost sight of the rules but to their credit quickly learned their lesson and did the right thing – clarify and apologize for their mistake.

A great suggestion I came across – the next time you have a marketing/public relations meeting and someone says, “You know what would be hilarious…”, write your apology press release before the “funny” one – see how that sounds first.4

I think that’s some sound advice. (Sorry, pun intended.)

In the future, I’m confident Allstate will keep their “mayhem” to their commercials.

Sources:

  1. Trapani, Andrea. “Allstate Corp. Misses Big With Zodiac Press Release.” Identity PR, 7 Feb. 2011, identitypr.com/blog/allstate-corp-misses-big-with-zodiac-press-release/.
  2. Smith, Aaron. “Allstate zodiac joke bombs.” CNN Money, 3 Feb. 2011, money.cnn.com/2011/02/02/news/companies/allstate_zodiac/index.htm.
  3. Allstate Corporation, The. “Allstate Corrects Misperceptions Zodiac Press Release May Have Created.” PR Newswire, 29 Jan. 2011, prnewswire.com/news-releases/allstate-corrects-misperceptions-zodiac-press-release-may-have-created-114864594.html.
  4. One Minute Marketer. “Allstate’s Audience Can’t Take a Joke.” Iowa Ad Guy, 10 Feb. 2011, iowaadguy.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/allstates-audience-cant-take-a-joke/.