John Legend, Photo Provided via American Family

John Legend has joined an elite property/casualty insurance industry club that includes the likes of Peyton Manning, Dennis Haysbert, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neill and William Shatner.

Legend, a multi-award winning singer and songwriter, is the new “brand ambassador” for American Family Insurance.

The Wisconsin-based insurer said that Legend’s music will be used in American Family Insurance ad campaigns. He’ll also partner with the company on “brand ambassador” opportunities including performances and appearances.

“Like all of our brand ambassadors, John Legend had a dream and worked tirelessly to realize it, getting support and encouragement along the way from others who believed in him,” American Family Chief Marketing Officer Telisa Yancy said in prepared remarks. “His thoughtful lyrics and beautiful instrumentals are the perfect soundtrack for inspiring others as they pursue their own dreams.”

Legend is the latest in a long line of insurance industry celebrity spokespersons. American Family has others on tap including Derik Jeter, and Kathy Ireland. Shaquille O’Neil is now a spokesperson for The General. Professional stock car racing driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has made waves as a Nationwide spokesperson, as has former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Oprah Winfrey partnered with Liberty Mutual several years back. Even actor and TV personality William Shatner got into the act. Back in 2011, he was a State Farm Spokesperson in adds including “Eat, Fry Love,” a commercial that showed how dangerous turkey fryers can be.

Celebrities Help Reinforce Insurers’ Message

Insurers who choose to use celebrity spokespersons gain quick traction with the audiences they’re trying to reach, said Ted Marzilli, CEO of consumer perception research firm YouGov BrandIndex.

“Insurance companies gain all the emotional components that go with a well-known public figure: likability, trust and identification are the three big ones,” Marzilli told Carrier Management via email. “The very nature of insurance and its subtle emotional and mental triggers can benefit from the right person who can convey those three components. The beauty of celebrities is that the reaction to them is instant and visceral.”

Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O’Neal

Put another way, celebrity spokespersons and celebrity endorsements help improve both image and profits, according to Loretta Worters, vice president, communications for the Insurance Information Institute.

“When partnering with celebrities, sports figures, etc., it is often successful because these figures are so well recognized, almost as a brand themselves,” Worters told Carrier Management by email. “As spokespersons, they can spur tremendous profit by increasing a company’s brand recognition and improving its image. There is an image a company wants to convey and that celebrity can help convey that image.”

Using a Celebrity Spokesperson Can Backfire

However, as Worters noted, retaining a celebrity spokesperson isn’t always smooth experiences for the insurer.

“There can also be an association with a celebrity that has gone bad, where a celebrity has been arrested for, say, drunk driving, and they have been a spokesperson for your auto insurance,” Worters said. “That can be a huge problem to your brand.”

Marzilli agreed that there are risks in using a celebrity spokesperson, whose personal crises or bad decisions can sully a brand.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Even the wrong word or phrase on social media can reflect badly on a brand,” Marzilli said. “Sometimes if a celebrity’s career is waning, they can become more irrelevant to the target audience as well. That’s why it is important to choose your celebrities and talent wisely, do your vetting and cross your fingers.”

Nationwide confronted that issue earlier this year with Manning. Right around the time of his announced retirement, allegations surfaced that he used performance-enhancing drugs banned by the NFL to recover from neck surgeries in 2011. Also, media outlets began covering allegations involving a 20-year-old sexual harassment scandal at the University of Tennessee. Manning denied wrongdoing in both cases, and a Nationwide spokesperson told Carrier Management earlier this year that the insurer would stick with Manning, whose add campaign has been quite popular.

In the case of American Family and John Legend, the insurer is quick to cite the singer and songwriter’s lengthy resume in its announcement of the new endorsement deal.

Among his achievements: Legend won an Academy award, Golden Globe award and Critic’s Choice award for the song “Glory” he wrote and performed with the rapper and actor Common for the film “Selma.” He’s also a well-regard recording artist, and his song “All of Me” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Mainstream Top 40 and Rhythmic charts, the insurer noted.

Legend is also active in the community in areas including poverty and improving the lives of children. American Family said his work and message fits with its own effort to inspire customers to “dream fearlessly.”