‘Crafting the brand’: How former Huge CEO is pivoting from agency background in service of DTC life insurance startup

Aaron Shapiro

There’s a direct-to-consumer brand for everything from pet food to shaving kits. And now, there’s Dayforward, a newly launched DTC life insurance brand.

Dayforward is aiming to modernize the insurance industry by cutting out the middleman and allowing customers to buy directly from the site. It’s something Aaron Shapiro has been working since leaving the agency world in 2018 — where he had been the CEO and co-founder of the ad agency Huge.

“I wanted to focus on a kind of problem that would have a really big societal impact,” Shapiro said, adding that getting life insurance can be a muddled process and that few people actually have it. By offering DTC life insurance, Shapiro is hoping to make it more accessible.

Founded in late 2020, Dayforward is currently licensed to sell life insurance in Texas with plans to expand nationwide over the next two years, with availability in new states every few months. It’s unclear how many clients it has as “it’s too early to share growth numbers,” Shapiro said.

While Shapiro is shifting from his agency background — he’s tapped his former agency employees’ talent. Tim Nolan, a former executive creative director at Huge, now heads creative and Zoe Gruenberg, a former engagement director at Huge, heads up marketing and the company’s approach to advertising. The DTC life insurance brand has built an internal creative and media agency, a model designed to help with speed and agility, said Shapiro.

“We can ideate concepts, test them right away and then quickly optimize over time,” he said. “We can really push the limits of how you integrate data and creativity in a way that’s not usually done in conventional agencies.”

Overall, Dayforward is relying on data-driven media strategy and recently launched Incoming Magazine as a content engine. It’s unclear how much the company is spending on advertising as it declined a request for specific details.

Shapiro is far from alone when it comes to agency execs building out DTC brands. As previously reported by Digiday, performance marketing agency execs have recently started to build out their own DTC brands as they are looking to have more control of brand growth and the ability to use marketing strategies they believe in without too much in the way of bureaucracy.

Shapiro stepped down from his role at Huge in 2018 to pursue a reported undisclosed new venture, which would later materialize as Dayforward. As a former CEO and co-founder in the agency world, it would have been easy enough to start another agency, but he said he wanted to take a crack at something new.

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Dayforward is a “a chance for us to directly test what works ourselves, where we’re really crafting the brand,” said Shapiro.

At Huge, Shapiro worked with insurance clients and he believes the insurance industry needs a disruption. For starters, said Shapiro, messaging was about selling policies instead of thinking about the end customer. There’s also a global pandemic where more families are experiencing financial hardship. And finally, insurance brands are struggling to make the transition to the digital economy. 

“We buy everything online, right? People can buy used cars and houses online nowadays with Covid,” Shapiro said. “Certainly, you can buy life insurance.”

Nik Sharma is a DTC investor, advisor and founder of Sharma Brands who has seen a DTC brand for everything from office chairs to air conditioning units. Sharma sees building a DTC brand as a viable career path for those looking to get out of the agency world, he said, as it offers freedom.

“Agency execs are constantly working for someone on the other side of the table, it’s always a client,” Sharma said in an email. “If you have your own DTC company, you’re on your own time.”

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