The Sugar Bowl, generously sponsored by AllState Insurance New Year’s Day, was certainly the more entertaining of the two national semifinal football games. But for social media users and enthusiasts, there was a disturbing undertow, brought to you by AllState as well.

The company’s popular Mayhem Campaign — admittedly clever and entertaining — made its presence known early and often during the game. Its ads essentially told people if they post pictures or check-in from somewhere other than their home on social media channels, Mayhem will burglarize their house.

Even trustworthy spokesperson Dennis Haysbert’s commercials said, “More and more, burglars are using social media to find their targets.” His spots pointed people to the company’s Aware Share initiative, which smartly reminds people to be safe and thoughtful with the information they share on social channels. This I like. The over-dramatization of the risk in the Mayhem spots, however, I do not.

Certainly, the tone and tenor of the spots matched the campaign and transmitted a consumer risk that a company like AllState can mitigate with an insurance policy. But the insinuation in the spots has a far more negative affect on consumers that a fun ad campaign should. We live in a marketplace oversensitive to privacy concerns and wary of technologies consumers may not fully understand. For AllState to capitalize and exploit that fear and misunderstanding is, at a minimum, short-sighted. It is perhaps distasteful.

The fact of the matter is that if someone wants to break into  your home, they’re going to break into your home. Social media is not likely to have anything to do with it. Certainly, making sure your vacation pics and check-ins are set to show only to friends and family and not full-on to a public audience is a personal safety practice we should all exercise. There is a risk. Though, as you’ll see from some examples below, that’s not going to protect you, either.

If you question these assertions, you quickly find there is little to back up that this is a risk at all.

I chatted with my pal Jeremy Schell, who leads digital at PriceWeber, during the game and agreed to collaborate on finding what was out there to support or not support AllState’s insinuation. (A good research effort doesn’t set out to prove one side or the other, but to answer the question either way.) A modest, but not scientific, scan of the web for research around burglaries and social media statuses left us perplexed:

  • This post from the International Business Times uses assertions from an infographic constructed by a door company, which has a vested interest in persuading you to fear burglaries. They paraphrase police saying burglars check social media to target you, but offer no direct quotes, research or data. They do have a direct quote saying similar, but from someone with a home security firm. There’s no statistical evidence presented to back up the notion.
  • One family claims their vacation pictures led to their home robbery, but the San Francisco ABC affiliate reporting it didn’t bother to ask for proof. How do they know? They also cited “one survey out of the UK” as showing 78 percent of burglars check online statuses for victims. There was no link or verification of the data, either.
  • That UK survey? I found it referenced on that only offered credit and a link back to a place called Credit Sesame. They published an infographic with the 78% number but no specific reference. I searched further and found that the survey was indeed a real survey of 50 convicted burglars (low sample size) conducted by Friedland, a Honeywell company that sells? You guessed it: Home security accessories like cameras and alarms. Why do I question the survey? Well, I can talk to 1,000 burglars and if 50 of them say what I want them to say, I can say my sample size was 50. The more in the sample size, the more comfortable I am. 50 is low.
  • To AllState’s credit, they aren’t the only fear-mongers here. Nationwide came up with a nice, long paranoia producing post, too.

But I did find actual evidence AllState could use:

People like Kim Komando perpetuate the fear without citing fact, too. So they’re complicit in the fear mongering. Certainly, they do so and also pass on solid tips on minding your settings and the like, so it’s hard to get upset with them, too much. But at what point are we as consumers going to start demanding better?

Granted, I’m a social media enthusiast and practitioner. I’m biased. And, as my Twitter friend Jon Bowers pointed out, I’m probably overreacting. I don’t think AllState is a horrible company. I don’t think the Mayhem Campaign is a bad campaign. I just think they’re inadvertently perpetuating fear unnecessarily. When I speak at non-marketing industry conferences, the consumer-side questions inevitably revolve around privacy concerns. People are already afraid of social networks in many circumstances. AllState doesn’t need to make it worse, that’s all.

Show me the data. Explain to me why it’s a risk before you make me afraid to use a feature or even an entire network. Especially as we’re in a market environment that breeds mistrust of privacy and features on social networks.

That, AllState, would make me trust you more.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe they can. The National White Collar Crime Center (yes, I realize burglary isn’t a white collar crime, but hear me out) published the only study we could find on criminal use of social media in 2013. The report talks about the potential risk and speaks in hypotheticals before asserting, “The prevalence of criminal activity on social media sites is difficult to determine. In fact, there are currently no comprehensive statistics on social media crimes, although steps are being taken.”

This doesn’t mean there isn’t risk. Just that claiming there is a great one is perhaps jumping the gun. And it shouldn’t be lost on us that there were 110 burglaries per 1,000 homes in the U.S. in 1970. In 2008 that number was 26.3. Perhaps more damning to AllState, however is the fact that the rate of burglary in the U.S. has decreased 56 percent from 1994 to 2011. So since the dawning of the age of social media and the check in, the only thing happening “more and more” is burglars are not breaking into your house.

And, as Jeremy asserted as he contributed to thoughts for this post, social media also works both ways. Law enforcement uses social media too!

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