One of televised sports’ biggest events will also bring big developments in the insurance marketing arena as two insurers kick off new advertising campaigns featuring celebrity talent.

Nationwide and Libery Mutual Seek Uplifting, Relatable Themes

Nationwide will debut its “Join the Nation” campaign during Friday’s opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics. The company is benching its Word’s Greatest Spokesperson in exchange for Academy Award winner Julia Roberts’ voiceover, which are featured in the advertisements that the insurer says will show how the company “cares about its members.”

“When we were considering how to bring our message to life, we were looking for a familiar voice that would bring our brand attributes to life,” Jennifer Hanley, Nationwide senior vice president of brand marketing, said in a statement. “Julia Roberts’ voice brings an assuring, confident tone to the campaign that resonates well with our target audience.”

The “Join the Nation” campaign will feature several ads, including “Anthem” and “Disappear,” the latter of which debuts in August and showcases the insurer’s Vanishing Deductible coverage that offers policyholders lower rates for safer driving.

The insurer is also launching a “Join the Nation” website, tooled with an “Ask the Nation” section, where consumers can get answers to car insurance questions, and “Real Members, Real Stories,” where consumers can view user-generated anecdotal videos.

Liberty Mutual will kick off its “Humans” advertisements on July 28 during the Olympics in 60- and 30-second spots. “Humans” will feature the voice of famed actor Paul Giamatti, who was tapped for the gig because he “is relatable to everyone,” according to Jim Macphee, a chief marketing officer for the insurer.

“In a highly competitive personal insurance marketplace, it is important to promote our differentiating attributes, characterized by our empathy towards policyholders in times when they need us,” Macphee said in a statement.

New Campaigns May Signify Shift in Marketing Approach

Insurers have put a lot of money on the table to market their wares, with a June report from SNL Financial showing that total advertising dollars from property and casualty underwriters in the U.S. jumped from about $4.4 billion in 2010 to $5 billion in 2011. GEICO made up a large chunk of that amount, leading all other insurers with $993.8 million spent in 2011.

Liberty Mutual and Nationwide ranked sixth and seventh in advertising expenditures, respectively.

SNL Financial highlighted characters used in GEICO’s 2011 campaigns, including the long-running GEICO gecko and a shrieking pig.

A 2011 report from J.D. Power and Associates analyzed what it said was a humorous marketing approach within the industry. The study, subtitled “When Did Personal Auto Insurance Become a Laughing Matter?”, drew attention to quirky characters like Progressive’s Flo and Allstate’s Mayhem.

However, these latest campaigns from Nationwide and Liberty Mutual, featuring well-known celebrity voices and heartening themes, may signify a break from what has been a norm in the insurance industry.