Here’s what I shared with Sapna Maheshwari at The New York Times:
MetLife is firing Snoopy.
The “Peanuts” character, one of the most recognizable figures in American pop culture, is being retired after more than 30 years of appearing in print ads, TV commercials, marketing materials and on the sides of MetLife’s blimps at sports events.
No more big-nosed beagle in the flight cap and goggles chasing the Red Baron on Metlife’s airship. No more television commercials featuring a smiling Snoopy navigating life’s treacherous waters to sell insurance. Cuddly Snoopy hitting a home run? Out.
MetLife, one of the largest insurance companies with 100 million customers worldwide, said the move is part of an effort to update its corporate emblem for international competition.
The global chief marketing officer for MetLife, Esther Lee, announced the change on Thursday, saying that Snoopy was adopted as a symbol in 1985 to make the company seem “more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant.”
“We have great respect for these iconic characters,” Ms. Lee said in the announcement. “However, as we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”
The company said it wanted a “clean, modern” design that included the colors blue and green to “represent life, renewal and energy.” They form what it has called “the partnership M.” The broader MetLife palette was expanded to include a range of vibrant secondary colors, reflecting “the diverse lives of its customers,” a company statement said.
There is also a new tagline, “MetLife: Navigating life together,” replacing the old “Get Met. It Pays.”
Dean Crutchfield, an independent brand consultant in New York, said that Snoopy was relevant at the time that it was introduced, but that the change was a smart move that recognized the company’s changing business. “Snoopy was brought in to connect emotionally with consumers,” he said, but was no longer helping as a brand. “It is no longer relevant to its target audience.”
Already, the company’s website shows no sign of the floppy-eared dog whose adventurous daydreams won the hearts of multiple generations of Americans, in the Charles M. Schulz comic strip and its spinoffs.
In the comics, on TV and movies, a hit pop song and even the stage, Snoopy was the loyal pup who loved his “round-headed” human, Charlie Brown, but could never remember the boy’s name. His rich fantasy life included characters like “Joe Cool,” a hipster in dark sunglasses, and the World War I flying ace whose doghouse was transformed into a British biplane.
But now Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel are grounded, at least when it comes to selling life insurance.
The company called the decision the “most significant change” to the brand in decades. Ms. Lee, who joined MetLife last year, conducted research among more than 55,000 customers worldwide and found them “overwhelmed” by the pace of global change. MetLife had to evolve, Ms. Lee said.
“What we did want to figure out, as we started to become this more purpose-built, modern company, is do those characters go beyond being friendly and approachable?” she said.
The answer turned out to be no, MetLife discovered in its research.
Consumers thought the “Peanuts” characters were friendly and approachable, Ms. Lee said, but did not associate them with traits like leadership and responsibility. Nor did the characters affect interest in buying insurance.
The research also asked customers point blank if they would mind if MetLife stopped using Snoopy and the gang. “People are indifferent from us moving away from the characters,” Ms. Lee said, adding that more than 1,000 other brands around the world use Peanuts characters in their marketing. “They basically don’t care.”
The life insurance giant has over the years tried to find a way to make its business, overshadowed by the terms “death benefits” and “beneficiaries,” more approachable, and for years Snoopy and other Peanuts characters provided the warm and fuzzy.
There had already been changes afoot at MetLife in the era of social media. In 2014, the company introduced an online campaign to change perceptions of the life insurance industry, encouraging customers to share the ways they live for their loved ones by using #WhoILiveFor. The campaign’s centerpiece featured a collection of video clips not of the Peanuts characters, but of real people with diverse races, partnerships and backgrounds.
Corporations are viewed as more approachable these days, Ms. Lee said, and consumers are no longer intimidated by them, she added. “So many companies are actually reaching them one-on-one, tweeting back and forth with them.”