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Mayhem, Flo, the Geico gecko, Doug, and the Limu Emu. They are all unmistakable insurance mascots that we cannot avoid. You either love them or love to hate them. But another insurance mascot stands out, not as a wild animal, a caricature of an over-the-top salesperson, or a personification of risk itself. Jake from State Farm entered our homes and hearts with his trademark red shirt and khaki pants when his commercial first aired.
You may remember the advertisement. A man in the early morning hours, in a dark living room, speaking quietly on the phone. His wife comes down the stairs and asks who he is talking to, suspecting him of infidelity. He responds with “Jake, from State Farm.” She rips the phone from her husband’s hand and asks what this “Jake” from State Farm is wearing. The scene cuts to Jake sitting at a cubicle in his notorious red shirt and khakis. He states he is wearing khakis. The wife quips, “She sounds hideous,” to her husband, who responds that “she” is a guy. The commercial ends with a logo and comment about how saving at 3 am is why more people stay with State Farm.
The commercial wasn’t overly remarkable or outlandish, but it was funny. There was something different about Jake. Something that made him stand out and more likable than his competition. Perhaps it was that Jake wasn’t an actor but an actual State Farm employee. Or maybe because he wasn’t trying to be something else. Whatever the reason, America loved him, and he quickly became the company’s unintended mascot.
The original Jake featured in the infamous commercial was real-life State Farm employee Jake Stone. He responded to an internal casting call to be featured in a commercial on a whim and got the part. Neither Stone nor State Farm had any idea the ad would be so successful or that the character of Jake would turn into such a cultural phenomenon. As a result of its success, State Farm made Jake their mascot, set up a Twitter account for him, and gave him a prominent spot on their website. Although seemingly everyone in America knew who Jake was, Stone himself remained down to earth. He would get the occasional recognition and request for a photo, but his life was relatively unscathed. Eventually, Stone left his position at the company to pursue other opportunities (not acting).
In the first few months of 2020, State Farm released a revised version of the commercial that made Jake so popular. But fans quickly noticed something was awry. The familiar OG Jake was replaced with a different actor. This Jake is played by a professional actor, Kevin Miles, who is a younger, more svelte replacement. But that is not the only difference. Kevin is also a person of color, which was a change from the original. Not much is known about Kevin other than he appeared in some television shows prior to landing his current State Farm gig. He is also a native of Chicago, Illinois, the state where his employer is headquartered. Since his first commercial aired, Kevin has reprised his role in numerous ads, including one featured in the 2021 Superbowl with “Drake from State Farm” as Jake’s stand-in.
If America fell in love with the original Jake, why replace him? Well, that depends on who you ask. Representatives from State Farm say the change was merely a matter of logistics. Jake Stone isn’t an actor by trade, and they wanted the Jake role to evolve. They saw more extensive commercials with Jake interacting with other actors in various situations. It only made sense to hire a professional for the job. However, some individuals were not convinced this was the reason.
Critics of the change accused the insurance company of attempting to align with the so-called “woke” culture by replacing a white mascot with someone from the BIPOC community. While the old commercial ends with the joke about Jake sounding “hideous,” the new one removes that joke entirely. This was further proof, at least according to these individuals, that State Farm was becoming too politically correct. The old-school Jake appeared to be heteronormal in the way he was presented. Those who opposed Kevin Miles as the new Jake thought he was too ambiguous in his sexuality, and rumors circulated that he might be gay. State Farm pushes back on the notion that Kevin was specifically cast for his ethnicity or sexual orientation. They state they were strictly looking for someone likable and even tested Kevin in a few focus groups to see how well he was liked before hiring him for the job.
Although there has been no confirmation of his sexuality, let us not forget that Jake is, in fact, a fictional character. Whether he is gay or not is irrelevant and has no bearing on the products he is representing. Even if State Farm is intentionally cashing in on societal wokeness, is representation such a bad thing? One could argue that the ends justify the means in this case.
To really comprehend the changes that were implemented and get a better sense of why State Farm might have made them, we should compare the old and new commercials. While the focal point of the advertisement is the latest actor, that wasn’t the only revision made.
Both commercials are nearly identical up until Jake’s introduction. In the 2011 commercial, Jake sits in a cubicle wearing his signature red polo and khakis. He looks to be in a standard office environment, with a keyboard, monitor, and mouse on his desk. He’s speaking on a desk phone, and a nondescript photo is in the background. It looks like it could be a family photo, a male holding a child in the air with a female figure directly behind him. Jake is sitting in his office chair, legs spread with the phone in one hand and a pen in between his fingers in the other. While we can see a glimpse of a co-worker in the background, there is no interaction between the two. Each is seemingly siloed in their cubicles, working separately but diligently at 3 am.
The current Jake is still wearing the State Farm uniform with a red shirt and khakis in the 2020 commercial. But he looks more put together in a red pullover sweater with a white button-down underneath, and his khakis are fitted. The office is more modern than we saw previously, and the cubicle walls are not as tall. Wall-mounted televisions are in the background, a laptop is on his desk, and Jake is speaking on a cell phone. A co-worker is walking around, looking very busy. Jake interacts with his cubicle mate, Jake Stone, who makes a cameo at one point. This is a more collaborative and livelier environment. There are limited personal items on Jake’s desk, but he does have a “Jake from State Farm” plaque and a children’s drawing of a rainbow with some writing. You cannot read the writing, but if you look closely, it appears to be some sort of a “Thank You” note, presumably regarding an insurance-related event that Jake helped with, no doubt.
These changes might seem like superficial revisions, but I think they are far more calculated. Jake’s new office is modern and up to date. Whether we are conscious of it or not, State Farm is showing that they are changing with the times and utilizing new technology, at least in their ads. The office space they present to us gives us the impression that they are down-to-earth and friendly, open to innovation. But their employees still wear their signature uniforms, reassuring us that they are still regulated and can play by the rules when they need to.
I believe even the character’s sexuality is meant to be intentionally ambiguous. With the former Jake’s family photo hanging behind him, the implication is that he is a heterosexual cis male. This demographic is overly represented and can only speak to a select group of consumers. The new Jake doesn’t have a family photo. We don’t know how he identifies. In fact, even trying to find information on Kevin Miles’ personal life is difficult. This ambiguity allows State Farm to be just progressive enough to appeal to those that can see themselves in Jake but not too progressive to alienate the ones who can’t. It’s a genius marketing ploy, and it’s working.
Where does Jake go from here? Since the new Jake’s debut in 2020, he has been featured with many big-name celebrities. We mentioned Drake in the Super Bowl ad, but Paul Rudd, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers were also in the same commercial. Basketball player Chris Paul from the Phoenix Suns and video game voice actor Ashly Burch have also made cameos in State Farm ads. We can’t say for sure what is next for Kevin Miles or Jake, but there is clearly no limit on how far he can go, and we can’t wait to witness it!
Header Image courtesy of “Grand Opening of State Farm b’link Center in Bloomington, IL” licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0