The end of this month will mark three years since my then agency, Hill/Holliday Boston, pitched to Liberty Mutual, the US’s eighth largest insurance company (now sixth) the idea that it should base its positioning upon its commitment to doing the right thing: to make its unshakeable sense of responsibility its organising idea.
It had been clear to us as we met and observed them at work during the month-long pitch process that responsibility was what the company was all about – so in line with our commitment to reflecting ‘the truth inside’, it was near self-evident to us that this was what the brand should be all about too.
The clients, to their credit, didn’t take much persuading – the company’s outstanding CEO, in particular, immediately seeing the potential internal as well as external benefits of publicly celebrating the company’s defining cultural trait.
But at the time it was a very gutsy move from a commercial perspective.
For in the autumn of 2005, responsibility wasn’t sexy. Risk-taking was.
Only underwriting the credit-worthy wasn’t sexy. Underwriting anyone was.
In pitches on the Commercial side, Liberty was often finding itself run out of it at the death by a rival ever prepared to push the envelope that bit further.
To the extent that some Liberty insiders were starting to ask, ’shouldn’t we be more like AIG?’
The new positioning, anchored around the line, ‘Responsibility. What’s your policy?’ launched in May 2006. Its call for both companies and consumers to consider the role of responsibility in their corporate and individual actions struck an immediate and resonant chord with the American public. The call quickly took on a life of its own, moving within months from a corporate ad campaign, to a community website, to an abstract public movement (’The Responsibility Project’) involving film-makers and leading public policy figures alike. By the end of 2007, ‘Responsibility’ had become a Business Week case study.
Right now there isn’t a single financial services company in America that wouldn’t kill to be associated with an operating philosophy of responsible business, responsible lending, responsible underwriting.
But sadly for them all, it’s not available.
Liberty Mutual owns it.
Because responsible is what it truly is.
And because it had the guts to publicly celebrate who it truly is even at a time when the prevailing ‘wisdom’ was running in the exact opposite direction.