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How State Farm and Social Media Breathed Life Into Cliff Paul

When State Farm and digital agency Translation started planning an NBA-focused campaign, they zeroed in on their biggest value as an insurance company: Agents.

Not all insurance companies offer individual agents to each of their customers, so when State Farm started working on a program with NBA All Star Chris Paul, they decided to center the entire campaign around the “real-life agent” concept.

Here’s the Twist: They brilliantly captured the “real-life agent” idea by creating a completely fictional character…and their audience ate it up. Cliff Paul, State Farm Insurance Agent and Chris Paul’s long-lost brother, has been the central focus of a long-standing State Farm campaign.

Throughout the course of the campaign, State Farm has seen Tweets pour in with messages saying “I want Cliff to be my agent!” or “How do I hire Cliff Paul?”

The Cliff Paul Campaign has become a cultural icon, thanks mostly to social media, and an incredible digital strategy. Check out the infographic below for a look at the campaign, and read on below to hear how State Farm and Translation went about it.

Cliff Paul State Farm infographic

The Story of Cliff Paul

If you aren’t a basketball fan, Cliff Paul may not be a name you recognize.

That’s not too surprising. After all, his own brother, LA Clippers point guard and NBA Players Association President Chris Paul, doesn’t recognize him half the time.

It’s a fun ad campaign, but State Farm and Translation decided to push the concept beyond a few ad spots…and it worked.

Over the last two years, they’ve taken the concept to a new level, not only leveraging one celebrity influencer, but also creating another – complete with social profiles, celebrity friends, and, yes, real-life family members.

I caught up with several members of the Translation team to pick their brains about the campaign.

“The Cliff Paul phenomenon actually started with some sponsored content in Bleacher Report,” said Russell Pinke, Director of Analytics for Translation. “We seeded it with them asking their audience Did we just see Chris Paul’s doppelganger at a game? And then the commercial aired, and we started to have fun with it, pushing the envelope of what was real.”

Cliff Paul didn’t disappear after the 2012 ad spot. In fact, his legend grew. During a three month period towards the end of the basketball season, Cliff Paul’s persona Twitter account – yes, he has his own account – garnered 18,200 engagements, and seen over 40 million Potential Impressions.

Brand Tweets and Engagement graph

How? Believe it or not, Cliff Paul has over 33,000 followers on Twitter, which can be added to the 77,000 people following him on Instagram.

Over the last two years, Cliff Paul has maintained a solid presence in the minds of basketball fans across the country, and in doing so has kept State Farm top-of-mind as well. But it wasn’t an accident. As you can see above, @CliffPaul Tweets daily. On Instagram, posts go up regularly as well.

“From the start, we had big aspiration for Cliff,” said Marcus Collins, Executive Director of Social at Translation. “How can we make him a real person and plant the seed of doubt with basketball fans who know everything there is to know about all their favorite players? How might we start a rumor? Naturally, we looked to social media as the perfect vehicle.”

For Collins and the social team, this means maintaining the accounts, even when they don’t have access to Chris Paul.

“We get to work with Chris for a couple weeks in the summer, shooting commercials,” said Pinke. “But we work closely with the guy who helps manage his social channels. Making Cliff Paul seem real has been a challenge in that regard, but a fun one.”

The Cliff Paul Lifestyle

As soon as he came to fruition, Cliff Paul started to get the star treatment.

Fans and other socially savvy brands Tweet about him, post pictures dressed like him, and have embraced the icon that he’s become. Cliff Paul – real or not – is now a celebrity, in his own right.

Cliff Paul has appeared in video games, with celebrities, at concerts, and on stage at The All Star Weekend.

He even released a shoe last year (it was argyle) in conjunction with Jordan Brand. Sneaker heads blogged about it and sports publications buzzed about the story as well.

Of course, Paul released the argyle kicks with a series of social posts.

“The release of the Argyle CP3ID was timed perfectly with the launch of Cliff’s Instagram account,” said Marissa Perr, Community Manager for Cliff Paul. “In addition to content captured during our commercial spots we are constantly looking to give fans a glimpse into a day in the life of Cliff Paul. We’ll take pictures from concerts, but show an argyle sleeve in the corner. People love it.”

Little Cliff and Little Chris

On Christmas 2013, State Farm introduced the Heritage campaign, which brought in Chris and Cliff Paul’s fictional sons Little Chris, and Little Cliff. Little Chris had been featured before, but Little Cliff was a new addition.

The big piece was a commercial spot, but this wasn’t the first component. It was a well-coordinated effort that relied heavily on social and digital media.

Timeline of the Cliff Paul campaign

“Coming into this year, we knew we wanted to focus on the kids more,” said Pinke. “Looking at the social analytics, when we featured Little Chris, we got higher engagement. Little Cliff came specifically out of that. It made complete sense. When we post pictures of him, it’s better than most other content.”

The campaign became a central theme across the social properties for Cliff Paul, Chris Paul, and State Farm.

“We’ve used Simply Measured to track the campaign from the beginning,” said Pinke. “It was how we found influencers to send them various things. We also optimized our time of day by doing analysis with Simply Measured. That’s why we started focusing on posting during games. Posts in the middle of the day are, understandably, not as effective.”

All Star Weekend

“All Star Weekend relied heavily on Influencers,” says Pinke. “At the 2013 All Star Weekend, we had Cliff and Chris appear together using green screens to make Cliff seem real. In 2014, Nick Cannon brought Cliff out to help emcee which really made Cliff real. The first year, the hashtag #iscliffreal started trending, which was a ton of fun. This year, we leveraged a lot of other celebrities who used social to pretend they ran into him. Drew Breez, Lala, the Lopez Twins…it was fun getting them to pretend they saw him.”

And of course, State Farm was never far from Cliff Paul.

The brand’s flagship accounts garnered over 44,000 engagements and 6 Million impressions during All Star Weekend. Cliff Paul has been a big driver for the insurance company.

What’s Next For Cliff?

“We’ve got some fun things coming up,” said Pinke. “You can expect to see more of Cliff Paul in 2014, including some charitable initiatives during the off-season. The audits and analysis we’ve done on our social channels show that people love him, so Cliff Paul will live on.”

Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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