Allstate Hires Gupta to Challenge Buffett, LeBron James

Sanjay Gupta, who led the rebranding of Ally Financial Inc.’s bank, is joining Allstate Corp. as the insurer competes with Geico Corp.’s gecko mascot and Progressive Corp.’s spunky saleswoman, Flo, to win customers.

Gupta was named executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Allstate, the second-largest U.S. auto and home insurer, according to a statement today from the company. He will join the Northbrook, Illinois-based firm Sept. 1 and report to Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tom Wilson.

Allstate is increasing spending to promote online car-insurance provider Esurance, which it purchased last year to spur sales through the Internet after losing customers for its namesake brand sold through agents. Gupta is stepping into a marketing clash that has featured Geico advertisements with talking pigs and comedian Gallagher, as well as basketball star LeBron James pitching State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. by playing the “world’s smallest violin.”

“Humor lasts longer or is more memorable versus something that is more fact-based,” said Brad Adgate, head of research at Horizon Media, a New York-based advertising company that works with Geico. “It’s not the most exciting of product categories, so most of the major insurance companies have taken a humorous approach to their creative messaging.”

Gupta was instrumental in Ally’s May 2009 rebranding of the former GMAC Bank and the architect of an advertising campaign that portrayed competing bankers as deceptive. Deposits have climbed every quarter since the first ads were shown. The lender was bailed out by the U.S. government in 2008 and is still majority owned by the Treasury Department.

‘Mind Numbing’

One Ally television advertisement boasts “no more mind-numbing customer service” and mocks phrases that clients might hear at rival firms, such as, “Would you like to hold?”; “My supervisor is currently not available”; and “How can I deliver world-class service for you today?”

“We thank Sanjay for his contributions to Ally and wish him well,” Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for the Detroit-based lender, said in an e-mailed statement. “Ally has a deep bench of talent that has been integral in the creation and development of the Ally brand and its marketing strategies.”

Allstate has used pitchman Dennis Haysbert to deliver its “good hands” motto and Mayhem, a character that causes accidents, to promote the completeness of its policies. Mark LaNeve had been chief marketing officer at Allstate prior to his resignation, announced in February.

Geico, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., led U.S. property-casualty insurers with $993.8 million in advertising spending last year, according to data compiled by SNL Financial. State Farm, the biggest U.S. home and auto insurer, was No. 2, at $813.5 million.

Allstate spent $745.3 million, while Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Progressive’s cost was $536.1 million.

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