Esurance Axes Erin After the Secret Agent Took on an X-Rated Life of Her Own

Last Updated Jun 15, 2010 12:41 PM EDT

Esurance has retired Erin, the pink-haired secret agent, from its commercials and in doing so may end a meme that was getting out of hand: Fan art depicting the character in adult-oriented situations that no insurance company would endorse.

The move says something interesting about an idea that's become trendy in advertising recently: That companies should "let go" of their brands and allow consumers to "own" them instead.

Well, many consumers decided they wanted a piece of the Erin brand, and the results had nothing to do with cut-rate third party, fire and theft policies. If you do a Google search for "Erin Esurance" you'll see that it prominently returns X-rated pictures of the star that "fans" have created, some with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude to the real thing. (The pics published here are among the cleaner ones; turn off Google's "Safesearch" mode under settings to get the full Monty.) The results for an image search are even worse: Esurance's Erin barely exists, her search results were killed off by her unapproved evil twins.

With inappropriate, unsanctioned images dominating their online results, it's not surprising that Esurance wants Erin gone.

Erin ran in dozens of Esurance commercials, selling auto coverage as she lept from scene to scene in a body-hugging catsuit. Esurance appeared to indulge the fantasies of Erin fans on one commercial that featured her taking a shower for no reason at all. That video is no longer available, unsurprisingly, but you can see a large collection of Erin's old stuff on the company's media web site.

I wrongly predicted that Erin would be re-upped by the company's new ad agency, Duncan/Channon, because the shop was under orders to keep Erin. I was half right -- the new ads do show her posters in the background scenery.

In the meantime, Erin lives a dark, seedy alernative life on fan art sites. This site has an elaborate biography of Erin before she became famous. Naturally, she posed for some (probably not safe for work) cheesecake photos to pay her way through college. Even less safe for the workplace are the sites in which Erin is imagined as a Vegas stripper and a bikini model. And there's a strikingly developed strain of lesbian bondage artwork, of which this one (right) is fairly tame.

Given that it's easier for consumers to create a new image of Erin than it is for the company to send cease-and-desist letters to have them taken down, you can see why Erin got the ax. Letting consumers own the brand was worse than remaking the brand from scratch.

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