Since late 2008, the year the insurer received a government bailout, American International Group Inc. (AIG) is advertising to consumers using the AIG name for the first time in the U.S.
Selling life insurance through the “AIG Direct” platform is a shift for the New York-based company, which renamed its global property-casualty unit and other businesses to avoid the stigma of a federal rescue that swelled to $182.3 billion.
Chief Executive Officer Robert Benmosche, 67, is seeking to restore confidence in the insurer as he attracts investors to replace government funds. He told employees in 2009 that the AIG name may return if the company rebounded and started to repay debt to the government. AIG Direct is a marketing name for the insurer’s Matrix Direct business, an agent for selling life insurance over the phone.
“Even Charlie Sheen got another shot,” said Al Ries, chairman of market-strategy firm Ries & Ries, in a telephone interview. “A known name with flaws is more powerful than an unknown name that nobody’s ever heard about.”
In a television advertisement running this week, the insurer says it can help consumers get more for their money when purchasing term life insurance through AIG Direct.
The commercial “is part of a very small pilot that involves the first time since the crisis that AIG is marketing a product directly to consumers under the AIG brand” in the U.S., said Mark Herr, a spokesman for the insurer. “We haven’t made any broad-reaching decisions about branding.”
The ad touts AIG Direct’s affiliation with the parent company, saying it’s one of the world’s largest insurance organizations.
“No wonder millions of people worldwide rely on AIG companies,” a narrator says.
AIG may be using the ads to get feedback about the brand before expanding it to other parts of the business, said Rohit Deshpande, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, in a phone interview.
“They’re sticking their toe in the water to test out one small part of the business,” he said.
The advertisement fulfills, in part, a prediction Benmosche made to AIG employees in 2009, the year he became CEO. “My sense is, one day, if AIG does well, starts to pay back the debt, AIG’s name may come back. Does that mean we want to go back to the name on the building and all the other stuff? That will be up to you to decide,” he said.