AUSTIN, TX: Esurance, the auto insurance provider, believes it "has to take risks" to effectively compete with major rivals like GEICO and Progressive.

Alan Gellman, Esurance's chief marketing officer, discussed this subject at the 4A's (American Association of Advertising Agencies) Transformation 2015 conference in Austin, Texas.

Given that the auto insurance space contains other huge players including State Farm, Farmers and Liberty Mutual, Esurance – a unit of Allstate, but with just 3,500 staff – must fight hard to stand out.

"It's also an organisation that is not only willing to take risks – it has to take risks. We are competing in a very competitive category," he said. (For more, including the value of agencies to the company, read Warc's exclusive report: Esurance bets on smart risk-taking.)

The financial stakes are high, but so is the need for advertising creativity if the firm is to break through the considerable clutter.

"If we don't take risks, and we don't try different things in a category that didn't exist 15 years ago, we won't be successful," said Gellman.

As such, while the insurance industry often relies on mascots or straightforward educational spots, one of Esurance's commercials for the 2015 Super Bowl was a tongue-in-cheek effort starring Lindsay Lohan.

Riffing on the actress's reputation for not being the safest driver behind the wheel, the company could show why demographic-based pricing wasn't fair for customers as part of its "Sorta You" campaign.

When presented with that proposal by Leo Burnett's Chicago office, Gellman reported, "I laughed really hard at the storyboard, thought it was brilliant and said, 'There's no way.'"

But drilling down further into this idea soon led to a change of heart, reflecting Esurance's emphasis on pursuing calculated risks.

"We talked about it some more, and I said 'You know what? It's big risk to put one of the worst drivers on earth [in a] Super Bowl ad.' But then we realized, 'You know what? It's exactly the right thing to do.'"

Data sourced from Warc