Ask For It By Name: Bob Wiltfong For Nationwide Insurance

Bob Wiltfong is The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World | Photo courtesy of Nationwide Insurance

By: Keith Huang

In the mid-’80s, advertising agencies that tried to bring funny spent most of their time fighting over light beer. Most campaigns were designed to teach us catchphrases and encouraged us to scream them at each other. Today, that comedy-trench fighting has shifted to insurance, and lately the spokespeople for that industry include geckos, cavemen and stacks of cash with eyeballs on them.

But recently, Old School Apiary pal Bob Wiltfong popped up on our computer and TV screens on behalf of Nationwide Insurance as The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in The World. And we couldn’t be more pleased. Wiltfong, who was one of the first NYC improv nerds to get booked as Daily Show correspondent, now lives in Chicago with his wife and three kids and is currently producing a one-man show, “The Manny Diaries,” which premieres next Sunday in Chicago (Tickets). The Apiary caught up with Wiltfong to talk about his new role that has probably made shopping at Dominick’s a long, drawn-out affair.

How long was the audition process before you booked it?

From the initial audition to the booking, it was probably a 10-day process, which is a pretty normal for most commercial gigs, at least from my experience. However, given the size of the campaign and commitment involved, it moved somewhat quickly. Within a few hours of officially booking the gig, I was on a plane to Los Angeles.

What do you think you brought to the audition that made the casting agents pick you?

Lots and lots of unemployed angst. Honestly, who knows — I certainly don’t. I try to stay ignorant on why I book things — and why I don’t — anymore. Sometimes it’s so random. If I knew for sure, I might go mad.

What do you think of the “World’s Greatest Spokesperson” character?

I know Nationwide designed this character to represent their “On Your Side” slogan. They want the guy to be laugh-out-loud funny so he can stand out and break through commercial clutter. But just as important, they need him to come across as a strong advocate who listens to customers and delivers what they need — before they ask.

That sounds like Bob Wiltfong to me.

The fact that I’m a straight-arrow looking guy with a healthy amount of experience as a comedic actor and improviser — and a full resume in spokesperson-ing and TV news reporting and anchoring — probably didn’t hurt my chances. I certainly feel comfortable in the character and feel like it plays to a lot of my strengths as a performer. Bottom line: I’m just happy to be working, man, especially with the economy right now and am very lucky nobody noticed my sizable nose in the audition process.

It looks like you’ve been shot you all over the place. Where all have they taken you?

Ahhh, the magic of film and editing. I’d love to say they took me all over the globe to shoot this stuff but the reality is we spent a couple of days in Mammoth, Calif., shooting the mountain stuff and then everything else, so far, has been in Los Angeles.

What’s the story on the World’s Greatest Spokesperson’s backstory as a movie star? That seems unique for an ad campaign.

Yeah, that’s been a lot of fun to play. The idea is before “the incident,” which is the one thing that remains unspoken in the spokeperson’s life. The guy was a huge star, very well-known as “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World.” So, in the ’80s, he made this movie called “Talk Back 2: The Mic is On.” And, shortly after it was released, the “incident” took place and he retired from society to become a recluse in the mountains. This guy wrote the original “Talk Back” movie, by the way, only in his mind. And, he says, because it was so wildly successful, in his mind, he decided to go straight to the sequel. I, personally, find it a very funny idea and a very cool way to market the character and the campaign. Hopefully, it works.

Any more commercials in the works?

I audition for an M&M’s spot on Monday! Outside of that, the big thing on my radar right now is putting up a new one-man show here in Chicago called “The Manny Diaries,” which details my real-life experiences as a stay-at-home dad to our kids over the last four years.