Carlson: Browns' NFL Playoff success isn't Baker Mayfield's only win. Here's how his commercials took off.
Matt Dillon marvels at Baker Mayfield’s output and efficiency.
Time can be short. Direction can be minimal. Pressure can be high.
And still, Mayfield can produce.
“Two days in Cleveland over the summer,” Dillon said, “we were able to capture eight to 10 television spots as well as digital content.”
“In just two days. A normal two-day shoot would normally get two to three spots.”
Dillon isn’t talking, of course, about Mayfield’s quarterbacking. Even though Dillon is a Browns fan and is pumped about Cleveland’s playoff run, he has been a Baker believer almost since the beginning of his NFL career. Dillon is the business leader for creative development at Progressive Insurance, and he was one of the folks who brought on Mayfield as a Progressive pitchman a couple years back.
Now, we are all the beneficiaries.
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Who doesn’t love “At Home with Baker Mayfield”?
As the NFL Playoffs roll on, the commercials featuring the former OU quarterback will help the timeouts pass a little quicker. The spots show Mayfield and real-world wife, Emily, doing things that homeowners often do, but their “home” is FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns.
The commercials are funny and relatable — in one of the spots released this season, Mayfield returns home with a trunk full of groceries but manages to carry every bag inside in one trip, lamenting at one point, “I can’t feel my fingers!” — and they are memorable.
Even with just one line, you remember them.
“Can we talk about this honeymoon scene? Wooooo!”
“Come on, with two people, it’ll be twice as fast!”
“Wait, we’re having company? I didn’t put out the snacks. Do we have any of those mini quiches? And remove anything breakable — they might have little kids!”
This is the second season of the “At Home with Baker” series, and Progressive knows it has hit on something big. The spots run nationally, and folks at the Mayfield Heights (yes, Mayfield), Ohio-based insurance company have seen lots of evidence of their impact, including social media chatter.
“There were some bad-weather games throughout the season,” Dillon said, “and you had social mentions saying, ‘Hey, Baker, you need to cover the seats’ and tying it back to our spots.”
The series has been such a hit that you’re likely to see Mayfield on more commercials this weekend than Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes or any other NFL quarterback. Never mind that those guys have won Super Bowls and MVPs and Mayfield only has one playoff win to his name to this point.
He is marketing gold.
So, how did the Progressive partnership come to be?
And why does it work?
It started back during Mayfield’s rookie year in Cleveland. One of his representatives, Chris Talbott, made contact with Jeff Charney, Progressive’s chief marketing officer. Talbott was impressed not only with the way Progressive had grown its business — it was the first major auto insurer to launch a website, which has made it a top-three insurer — but also with the way it has sold its business.
Progressive has some of the most memorable TV ad characters in recent memory.
Flo and Jamie.
The Sign Spinner.
Mark and Marcus, the chain gang crew.
And recently came Dr. Rick, protecting you from becoming your parents.
(“We all see it. We all see it.”
“He has blue hair.”
But when Talbott, brand strategist for the Mayfield family's Camwood Group, connected with Progressive, he learned they were looking to partner with an athlete. He felt like the company’s vibe — young and hip and (no pun intended) progressive — might mesh well with Mayfield.
When Mayfield met with Progressive's marketing folks, they put him through their own combine. They would give him a word, for example, and ask him to say the first thing that came to mind. They wanted to see how quickly he was able to think on his feet.
“What they needed to figure out … ,” Talbott said, “was, ‘Can Baker handle improvisation?’ We’ve seen him do it with his feet, we’ve seen him do it with his arm. But we also know there are certain athletes that are unbelievable when they’re playing a sport, but they can be kind of shy or just not have that kind of knack for acting.’”
Progressive uses lots of improv in its shoots. The scripts are foundations and frameworks, not fully constructed houses, so they need actors who can manage that. Dillon and his cohorts quickly knew Mayfield was capable.
“We felt something special was about to happen,” Dillon said.
They haven’t been disappointed.
“We’ll put Baker in a scenario. We’ll have a general thought of what we want to accomplish, but from there, Baker will really take a line and customize it or Baker-ize it so that it feels authentic,” Dillon said. “You really can see Baker shine.”
Erick Worrell, founder of Oklahoma City-based advertising and copywriting agency Mattersword and executive director of marketing and PR at Oklahoma City Community College, likened Mayfield’s on-screen abilities to those of another OU alum. Blake Griffin did commercials for Kia for several years, including a time-travel series where he would visit and advise his younger self.
In one of those spots, he stopped a flag football game by grabbing the ball, telling his younger self, “Wrong sport,” then punting the ball far away.
“And stop wearing jean shorts,” Griffin said at the end. “Just trust me.”
Worrell likened Griffin’s delivery to Mayfield’s.
“They’re both really impressive to me just being able to play deadpan,” Worrell said.
And he wonders what doors might open for Mayfield because these high-profile Progressive commercials. There may be other sponsorships, but other kinds of deals such as TV appearances might be possible, too.
“It’s a little bit of a way of him showing the world that he’s in on the joke, that he can poke fun at himself,” Worrell said. “He can not take himself too seriously, and then by doing that, it really humanizes him.”
Talbott said, “My first thought when I was with him for our very first (Progressive) shoot together, I thought, ‘Man, this guy could host “Saturday Night Live.”’ … I’m not saying he’s going to be John Belushi or some of the great actors that have come to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but I think he really would be tremendous on that.”
In the short term, though, Mayfield and his people would be happy to continue their relationship with Progressive. The insurance company is equally interested, and conversations will come after the Browns’ season is over.
Dillon and others are willing to delay those conversations if it's because Cleveland keep winning. Being headquartered in suburban Cleveland, many of the company’s employees are Browns fans. They want the playoff run to last as long as possible.
It’s good for their favorite team.
It’s good for their corporate team, too — Progressive has been able to keep rolling out fresh “At Home with Baker” content during the playoffs.
And to the people who scream and shout about Mayfield shooting commercials during the season, fear not. He gave Progressive so much material in the summer that it just looks like he’s doing new stuff.
Clearly, being productive on the football field isn’t Baker Mayfield’s only talent.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
‘AT HOME’ FAVORITES
Matt Dillon is heavily involved with the production of Progressive Insurance’s “At Home with Baker Mayfield” series of commercials. As business leader for creative development at Progressive, he likened the spots to children who you nurture and raise, then release into the world. You want them to soar.
“You think you know how people are going to react,” he said, “but you don’t necessarily know.”
Needless to say, all of the “At Home” spots are near and dear to Dillon.
But he does have his favorites.
1. Book Club: “My top one would be book club with Baker and Jedrick (Wills, Browns offensive lineman). First of all, Baker killed it with the honeymoon line. And then the wild part of having Jedrick in the spot, just kind of out of left field. This huge, big offensive lineman, you really wouldn’t expect that.”
2. Groceries one trip: “We’ve all been there. You know, my garage is only 30 feet from my house, but yet, I don’t want to take a second trip, so I’m putting every grocery bag I can on my hand.”
3. Gamer: “That’s a new one. You’ll see that run heavy this weekend for the playoffs. It just is Jedrick and Baker in their element. They’re both gamers. It just came across so natural. We were able to shoot that spot in less than 20 minutes. … It’s a fun spot where they’re just a bunch of kids playing games, getting yelled at by their mom or dad or girlfriend or wife. Again, it’s just so relatable.”
Even though Progressive Insurance’s “At Home with Baker Mayfield” is a national advertising campaign, the company wanted the series to give a little love to Cleveland.
Progressive is based in Mayfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland that is only half an hour from FirstEnergy Stadium where the Browns play. With the commercials being shot at the stadium and featuring the Browns quarterback, the Cleveland connections were already strong.
But Matt Dillon, Progressive’s business leader for creative development, said there are other tips of the cap to Cleveland.
Easter eggs, they’re called in the ad business.
*Jedrick Wills. He’s not widely recognizable — yet — but the rookie offensive lineman was the Browns’ top pick in last year’s draft after a stellar career at Alabama and has become the starter at left tackle this season. He appears in the “Book Club” and “Gamer” commercials, and Dillon said Mayfield and Wills met for the first time while shooting last summer. Because of the pandemic, they hadn’t had a chance to meet face to face prior to that day. It was also the first time Wills got to walk on the field at FirstEnergy Stadium.
*Heinen’s bags. When Mayfield fills his hands with grocery bags in one of the commercials, the blue plastic ones might seem nondescript to many viewers. But to people in Cleveland and the surrounding area, they are clearly from Heinen’s Grocery Store. The popular regional chain has locations in Ohio and Illinois.
*Rock n roll. Mayfield grumbles about the neighbors complaining over the volume of his video games in the “Gamer” spot. His wife, Emily, said they called to complain, and Mayfield asks, “I have no idea how they can complain! All they do is blast rock and roll all day.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located less than a third of a mile from the stadium, just across a parking lot. The hall is literally the stadium’s neighbor.
Baker Mayfield’s portfolio of companies that he works with and endorses includes some big names.
But he is also linked with several companies through venture capital investments. His family has long owned a private equity buyout firm, Camwood Capital Group, and in 2018, it spun off a venture-capital arm, Camwood Ventures. Some of Mayfield’s money has gone toward that investment vehicle.
The companies that Mayfield has invested in through Camwood Ventures include: beam, a CBD company; EarBuds, a shared-listening app; Goodmylk Co.; Legends, an athleisure brand; Pumpjack Dataworks; Season Share, a season-ticking-sharing app; Wave, a sports-media publisher; and Where I’m From, an apparel company.
Sunday’s divisional games
2:05 p.m.: Browns at Chiefs (CBS)
5:40 p.m.: Buccaneers at Saints (Fox)
As the NFL Playoffs move into the divisional round, here’s a look at the players in Sunday’s games who have connections to the state of Oklahoma. This includes players on active rosters, reserve/injured and practice squads:
CLEVELAND: Baker Mayfield, QB, OU; Vincent Taylor, DT, OSU; A.J. Green**, CB, OSU
KANSAS CITY: Tyreek Hill, WR, OSU; Darwin Thompson, RB, NEO/Jenks HS; James Winchester, LS, OU/Washington High School
NEW ORLEANS: None
TAMPA BAY: Codey McElroy**, TE, SE Oklahoma State/OSU/Cameron/Eastern Oklahoma State/Chattanooga HS