Breaking up is hard, especially when longtime partners have to decide who gets financial assets, property or even a pet. The split could be trickier, still, when one of the world’s most beloved dogs is involved.
MetLife Chief Executive Steve Kandarian has to decide whether he keeps Snoopy and his Peanuts friends, or if the comic-strip crew will depart with a U.S. retail business that the company plans to sell, spin off or divest to investors in a public offering.
Snoopy has been associated with the insurer for more than three decades, and enhances the “warm, approachable quality that is important to the MetLife brand,” according to the company’s guidelines. The beagle appears in the insurer’s ads, employees’ business cards, Wall Street presentations and even blimps.
“There aren’t many animated or cartoon characters that have that level of recognition and that level of appeal, which is what makes it so valuable,” said James O’Rourke, a management professor at University of Notre Dame, who expects the Peanuts characters will go to the retail business. “People think Snoopy is totally cool, and it’s a pretty broad range of people.”
Aflac Inc.’s wacky duck and the gecko pitching Geico auto policies are among creatures used by rivals to put a friendly face on insurance. MetLife’s Snoopy doesn’t speak, however. That means Kandarian doesn’t have to worry about a headache like the one Aflac had in 2011 when it fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried, then the voice of the duck in the U.S., after he made comments about tsunami victims in Japan.
MetLife has plenty on its plate with the split, beyond just comic-strip characters. The company has been designated by regulators as a systemically important financial institution because of its size, and the separation plan was designed partly to limit capital restrictions on retirement products such as annuities. The remaining company will still be one of the world’s largest insurers, selling group policies and property- casualty coverage in the U.S. and operating in Asia, Latin America and Europe.
Yet, even after Kandarian announced on Jan. 12 how he would allocate assets to the two businesses and assign leadership, the company acknowledged the dilemma of whether the U.S. retail business would retain the MetLife name and the Snoopy branding.
“We are in the early stages of planning,” the company said in a statement discussing the split. “Many questions remain to be answered.”