Erin Esurance: A Cautionary Tale of Appealing Characters

Erin Esurance was a mascot created to sell that most exotic of products: car insurance. She was a radical step away from the more traditional mascots and was given suitably contemporary marketing to appeal to buyers. Unfortunately she performed a little too well, and was pulled for a rather embarrassing reason.

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Readers outside the US may have never heard of Erin Esurance, but she was a mascot dreamed up to help launch Esurance as a force in the auto insurance space. The TV spots were produced by W!ldbrain and ran continuously for a number of years. All in all, Erin was a runaway success as Esurance began to lure customers away from the bigger players like GEICO.

Erin would warrant an article here in her own right, since she was created from scratch and brought a breath of fresh air to an otherwise staid industry with animation and cross-pollinated the online space through the use of Flash ads and banners. However, a recent Priceonomics article details that for all her success, she was brought to her knees (no smutty pun intented) by the internet.

It’s funny to think that not so long ago, it was possible for a company and its advertising/marketing agency to control almost every aspect of a campaign. They created the ads, they administered the message, and they could dictate when and where it was published and broadcast. Times have changed though, and today, the internet  is a vast beehive wherein any message (including this one) is cast off with little control over how it’s received or interpreted.

That was the fate that befell Erin. Once she became public, and unleashed onto the internet, all sorts of uncontrollable things happened, not least of which was a rather noticeable amount of ye olde Rule 34 images popping up in user’s searches.

There’s two things to note about this. This first is that people were searching for Erin (or rather Esurance), and the second is that Rule 34 images were markedly more visible than previously. For both things, we have Google to thank, since the company’s search engine simultaneously made searching much more reliable and easier to use, and brought the darker corners of the internet into public view.

For Esurance, the point of no return was obviously when the Rule 34 content began to overtake the legitimate content. Officially, the campaign had succeeded in its mission and was phased out before it became too stale, but unofficially its easy to see that their message was being drowned in Rule 34 noise.

Which raises an interesting point, Creators are long used to seeing others take their work and use it way out of context. It’s practically a tradition at this stage, and the internet has merely magnified its impact. Sites like DeviantArt are infamous for what fans are willing to do to characters and shows, and dedicated Rule 34 sites are more than full of all sorts of characters from TV shows and films aimed at young and old alike.

Yet the shows themselves don’t seem to suffer do they? This is partly because they primarily exist to entertain. They also exist to sell things like toys and so on and so forth, but in contrast, Erin was created primarily to sell and not to ‘entertain’ anyone. The former can live with the lewd stuff because it doesn’t interfere with the character’s job, whereas the latter can’t do they’re job effectively if they can be easily construed as being fodder for filthy minds.

The problem is not unique to appealing characters by any means, but successful and appealing characters will create a stronger bond with the audience and its quite likely that some will take that bond in directions other than what it’s intended to be and that are outside the control of the creator.

It’s an interesting conundrum and it hasn’t been a major issue for web creators, yet. As the quality and cost of web content increases, we will likely see creators and producers having to keep a closer eye on how their creations exist in the wider internet. and take any necessary action to ensure that new viewers aren’t accidentally stumbling across the wrong content.

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