Auto Advertising: The Next Big Thing?

Since the car radio first came onto the scene in the 1920s, auto advertising has been big business. The first paid radio ad hit airways August 28, 1922, paving the way for a veritable deluge of commercials promising us whiter teeth, more starch in our shirts, and, in general, a happier life.

But these days, between satellite radio and consumer electronics like MP3 players and iPods, many of us are able to avoid the roughly 18 minutes of ad time that come with every hour of radio. Ah, but not for long. Old news in Japan, but just starting to make headlines in the U.S., is a futuristic little something called “contextual branding.”

According to an article by Fast Company, contextual branding is “the art of sending the right message, to the right audience, at the right time.” Think Minority Report (but without the incessant retinal scans). Instead, based on info you provide at the dealership, your car will know your schedule and preferences and can then essentially “advertise” local products and services directly to you. Read the whole article.

What do you think? Is this technology cool or creepy?

Related links

Consumer Electronics Show
Vehicle safety meets cool technology
History of the car radio

Esurance Facebook Feedback: The Good, the Bad, and the Eeeesh

Maybe you know this already, but a few weeks ago, we premiered 2 new Esurance commercials (yeah!). These commercials focus on our great rates and the fact that our customers really (really) like us. They also introduce our new tagline, insurance for the modern world™.

As with any new campaign, the commercials sparked quite a bit of conversation — especially on our Facebook Wall — and we love the feedback. A lot of you asked about the voice of the Esurance commercials, the Esurance talking dog (Ultimate Dog Tease), and the song in the Esurance commercials (Jam Man by Chet Atkins).

And many of you actually stopped by our Wall and left us a line or two. (Thanks!) Some of the feedback we received was good, some was bad, and some was … well, a little ugly. But we don’t mind. Being a modern company means being open to the kind of dynamic dialogue that comes only through social media channels. And while we will remove anything profane or offensive from our Wall (in the interest of professionalism), the rest we leave.

Through it all, we listen and try to learn. For more than a decade, we’ve been working to make car insurance better from quote to claim (and beyond), and many of our customers express their appreciation via Facebook. Our customers also know that if they have a problem or question, they can just let us know on our Wall or via @esurancecares and someone will get in touch to help them out. It’s exactly the kind of modern business exchange we take pride in.

So although the new Esurance commercials have generated a flurry of Facebook feedback — some great, some not so great — we’re always happy to field critiques, criticisms, and (of course) compliments as they come! So keep ’em coming … “eesh” or not, we’re always listening.

Visit our Facebook page

Related link

Esurance CMO talks about new campaign

How to Donate Your Car and Get a Tax Deduction

If you’re planning on getting a new set of wheels in 2012, why not donate your old car to charity? Sure, some of you might have reservations, but just think of the karmic benefits. Plus, you get a chance to do some good — and that can be a rewarding experience.

To help make donating your car easy, we’ve put together a handy list.

1. Explore the tax benefits

Getting a tax deduction for your car donation seems simple and straightforward, doesn’t it? But, when it comes to the IRS, things can get a little murky. If you’d like a tax deduction for donating your car, here are a few things you’ll need to consider:

  • To claim your tax benefit, you’ll need to itemize your deductions.
  • Your deductions cannot exceed 50 percent of your adjusted gross income.
  • If your deduction is for more than $500 (meaning your car is worth more than $500), you’ll need to attach an IRS Form 8283 to your tax return (as well as an independent appraisal if the vehicle is worth more than $5,000).

As with most tax-related issues, talking to your tax professional before you proceed is a good idea. That way there aren’t any surprises — of the tax-audit variety.

2. Determine the fair market value of your car

Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds.com can give you a pretty good idea of how much your car’s worth. Keep in mind, however, that significant damage to the car’s body or engine problems could put your car well below the fair market value (i.e., lemons don’t qualify for full blue book).

3. Make a short list of charity candidates

This is the fun part, where you decide which cause to support. To maximize your tax benefits, check out the IRS list of qualifying charities.*

4. Vet your charities before selecting one

Before you give your wheels to a charity, you probably want to know how it measures up.

The Better Business Bureau’s charity report website rates charities based on everything from how they govern themselves and spend their money to how willing they are to disclose basic info (you know, the whole transparency thing).

If you want to expand your research, Charity Navigator, another charity review site, has a wealth of info.

You can also ask your charity directly how it plans to use your donation, and request to see their recognition-of-exemption letter from the IRS. If the charity will use your car as part of its activities, you’ll be able to deduct the fair market value of your car. But if the charity just sells the car, you won’t be able to deduct the fair market value. Instead, you’ll most likely get a deduction for the amount the charity sells the car for (which could be well below fair market value).

Watch out for commercial fundraisers
Many companies take donations in the name of charities. And while they may sound good, these commercial fundraisers tend to keep a big chunk of the money you’re giving. For instance, in the state of Washington, 117 registered commercial fundraisers exist, but only 10 pass along over 80 percent of their earnings.

So if you can, deal with your chosen charity directly.

5. Contact the charity and arrange the transfer

Once you decide on a charity, you’ll have to figure out how to schedule delivery. Will the charity send someone to pick the car up or will you need to drop it off? (It’d probably be cheaper for the charity if you drop the car off.)

Always get a receipt
When you donate your car to the charity, make sure you get a receipt (what the IRS calls a written acknowledgement for contribution deduction). It should have:

  • Your name and taxpayer identification number
  • The charity’s name and the date of the contribution
  • The car’s VIN
  • A description of the vehicle and its fair market value (if it’s worth more than $500)
  • A statement regarding whether or not you received goods and services for your contribution (and their value)

If the charity sells your car, it’ll send you another notice of the sale and what it got for your ride (so you can deduct it on your taxes).

6. Re-title the car

Some charities will ask you to leave the ownership field blank on the donation papers. If you do this, it could leave you liable for parking tickets (gasp!) or other violations (if the charity doesn’t handle the title work properly).

The IRS recommends you take care of the title work through with your state’s DMV, leaving no room for error.

7. Take the car off your insurance policy

Once you’ve donated your car, you’ll need to get in touch with your insurer to have the car dropped from your policy. If you’re an Esurance customer, you can do this online or with a simple phone call.

8. Relax and pat yourself on the back

Yay. You did some good. How that’s for starting the year off right?

Related links

Vehicle donor’s guide (PDF)
The IRS’s guide through the car donation process, with a special emphasis on potential tax benefits.

Adding or removing a car from your policy
Visit the land of Esurance FAQs and learn about adding or removing a car from your policy.

*One small note: your chosen charity might not show up on this list if it’s a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque (as none of these have to apply with the IRS to be recognized for exemption).

If you want to talk to a real person, you can verify an organization’s status by calling the IRS Customer Account Services division. Ask to speak with someone in the Tax Exempt and Government Entities section. Their phone number is 1-877-829-5500.

The Esurance Commercials FAQs

Since we began posting the latest Esurance commercials, they’ve generated quite a bit of buzz, plus a question or two. And since we don’t want to leave anyone in the dark, we thought we’d take a minute to answer the questions we’re hearing most.

Q: What’s the song from the Esurance commercials?

A: The commercials (except Mix Tape) feature the Grammy Award–winning song “Jam Man,” from Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist Chet Atkins. Mix Tape features the 80’s classic “Situation” by Yaz.

Q: Who is the voice in the Esurance commercials?

A: This is the most frequently asked question (by a long shot!). If that Esurance commercial voice sounds familiar to you — almost like someone you know from your office — that’s because it’s John Krasinski of The Office. Though most famous for his role on the hit show, he’s currently starring in Promised Land, which he co-wrote with Matt Damon.

Q: Are the Facebook comments featured in the commercial real?

A: In the Trust commercial, we mention that Esurance customers are saying stuff like “awesome” and “rockin’.” And they are! We took the quotes in the commercial directly from happy customers. So, thanks, happy customers.

Q: Is that the famous talking dog from YouTube?

A: Yes. Yes it is. The talking dog who makes a cameo in the Trust commercial rose to fame in “Ultimate Dog Tease” on YouTube.

If you have any other questions about the Esurance TV commercials, let us know on our Facebook Wall!

Watch all the Esurance commercials

Related articles
Esurance press release about the campaign
Esurance commercials on OfficeTally
The New York Times article on Esurance campaign

Esurance Gets a Financial Upgrade

Remember back in grade school when you worked really, really hard on your summer book report because you wanted it to be perfect? And how dang good it felt when Mrs. Lee handed it back to you with a great big A+ and a shiny gold star at the top?

Well, that’s kind of how we feel right now.

A.M. Best, a trusted industry rating organization, recently upgraded Esurance’s financial strength rating from A- (Excellent) to A+ (Superior). And though we’re not in grade school anymore, and our finance report is a smidge more complex than, say, a book report on Moby Dick, we’re still pretty excited about our shiny gold star.

Why? Because this means that we just became an even more reliable company.

A.M. Best ratings (in a nutshell)

Founded in 1899, A.M. Best Company, Inc., is a privately held rating agency that’s recognized by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (aka the SEC). The SEC, as you may or may not know, was established following the Great Depression to ensure — among other things — that corporations play fair. A.M. Best’s Financial Strength Rating (FSR) is an assessment of an insurer’s ability to meet its obligations to policyholders (like paying claims, for example).

Put simply, our A.M. Best financial rating means we’ve got some serious financial muscle. This, in turn, means that our customers can count on us to be there when they need us most.

Esurance’s financial strength

Our upgrade from A- to A+ has a lot to do with becoming part of the Allstate family. Of course, we’ll continue to operate as our own company — but now with the added benefit of being backed by a mainstay of the insurance industry. In business terms, the A.M. Best ranking indicates “positive implications” and “a stable outlook” for Esurance.

In human terms, it means we can continue to offer our customers the peace of mind they expect and need.

Why it matters to you

Car insurance is much more than just collecting premiums and sending customers insurance ID cards. At its core, car insurance is about offering financial security.

It’s about taking accident reports, paying claims, filing paperwork, and being there for our customers. And though we took pride in our previous financial strength rating of “Excellent,” we couldn’t be more pleased to get the upgrade to “Superior.”

It’s a shiny gold star that bodes well for our future, and most importantly, for our customers.