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GEICO’s Crazy Ad Strategy Breaks the Rules

geico

“People can now accept
more complex brands with
multiple, distinct narratives
highlighting various aspects
of the brand.”
— The Martin Agency,
about its GEICO ads

GEICO uses more branded characters at one time than probably any other company in the history of marketing. Turn on the TV tonight and you could see an ad starring their Gecko, Cavemen, or the googly-eyed pile of Kash. Or all three.

Presently GEICO has no fewer than six — count ‘em…SIX! — different ad campaigns running, each with their own unique tone, style, flavor and message.

Ask any brand-builder in the world, and they’ll tell you that using a seemingly disjointed and eclectic lineup of ads is the wrong way to create a cohesive, focused brand image. Consistency, they all say, is the key to shaping people’s perceptions and getting your messages to stick.

GEICO (pronounced “GUY-co,” and short for Government Employees Insurance Company) doesn’t just ignore these widely-accepted branding “rules.” They do everything possible to break them.

1 – The Gecko

The gecko first appeared in 1999 during a Screen Actors Guild strike that prevented the use of live actors. In the gecko’s first TV debut, he pleads for people confusing “gecko” with “GEICO” to stop phoning him. The gecko speaks with an English (Cockney) accent. Why? Because it would be unexpected, according to GEICO’s ad shop, the Martin Agency.

Message: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on your car insurance.”


“Trust Me”

2 – Cavemen

These metrosexual cavemen have somehow eluded extinction while developing a taste for racquet sports, plasma TVs, and “duck with mango salsa.” They are insulted by GEICO’s ad tagline, “So easy, a caveman can do it.”

GEICO and its ad agency tried to capitalize on the success of their Cavemen with a TV series in the fall of 2007. The move made GEICO the first advertiser in recent history to turn a fictional company spokescharacter into the star of a primetime TV show. But the show received overwhelmingly negative critical reaction, and was canceled after only six episodes. It’s a clear case of “jumping the shark.”

Message: “So easy, a caveman can do it.”


“Caveman Montage”

3 – Kash

Starting in 2008, GEICO has aired a series of TV ads featuring two paper-banded stacks of U.S. bills with a pair of big, buggy eyes on top. Kash, who never says anything, just sits and stares at people (it’s intentionally creepy), set to an obnoxious remix of a Rockwell/Michael Jackson song, “Somebody’s Watching Me.”

Message: “This [stack of cash] is the money you could be saving on your car insurance.”


“On a Date with Kash”

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4 – Rhetorical Questions

An actor asks the familiar question, “Could switching to Geico save you 15% or more on car insurance?” He then follows up with a rhetorical question: “Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?” or “Did The Waltons take way too long to say goodnight?”

Message: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more.”


“Does Elmer Fudd have trouble with the letter R?”

5 – Talking Objects

Objects causing damage to people’s cars — a pothole, a fire hydrant and the fender of another car — stumble through feeble apologies.

Message: “Accidents are bad. But GEICO’s good, with emergency road service.”


“Southern Pothole”

6 – Motorcycles & Toys

GEICO’s division for motorcycles, RVs and other toys has an entirely different campaign. These ads occasionally feature cameo appearances of the Gecko and Cavemen, but not usually. Most of them are markedly less creative than any of GEICO’s other spots.

Message: “You could save with GEICO motor cycle insurance.”


“Florida Sunset”

But wait… There’s more!

There’s a multitude of different spots GIECO rolls out every year, and no two campaigns are ever the same.

In 2003, Geico debuted a campaign called “Good News,” featuring ads where one character would break bad news to another, ending with the tagline: “I’ve got good news! I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to GEICO.”

In another spot circa 2008, a squirrel causes a car to swerve and crash. The squirrel fist bumps and high-fives another squirrel. The message: “Accidents can happen anytime. That’s why GEICO’s here 24 hours a day, every day.”

Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Peter Frampton, Don LaFontaine, and James Lipton are among the notable celebrities who spoofed themselves in yet another series GEICO spots.


“Don LaFontaine – That Movie Announcer Guy”

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The agency’s rationale

The Martin Agency has given different assignments to multiple creative teams, along with instructions “to tell multiple, distinct narratives that highlight various aspects of the brand.”

“Once upon a time, an ad was about a company’s unique selling position. But people can now accept more complex brands,” Mike Hughes, The Martin Agency’s president and creative director explains.

“I thought we might be able to build a deeper relationship if we built on multiple fronts,” Hughes told Fast Company.

The Martin Agency believes it has found a better way to do branding, perhaps even a new media strategy altogether. The ad shop has since begun rolling out multipronged strategies for a variety of clients including UPS and Wal-Mart.

Reality Check: This strategy is probably not for you. Most marketers have to spend a ton of money just to make one message stick, much less two (or more!). GEICO spends in the neighborhood of $500 million.

What do you think

How do you feel about the mish-mash of ad campaigns GEICO uses to build its brand? Please take the poll below. You can check all answers that apply. Also, feel free to leave your thoughts and questions in a comment.

Key Questions: Before you take the poll, ask yourself how many of GEICO’s brand messages can you recall? Do you know “it’s so easy, a caveman can do it?” Do you know “you can save 15% or more on your car insurance?” How many GEICO commercials can you recall?

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Comments

  1. It is interesting how their strategy goes against every branding rule we’ve ever learned, but it does seem to work for them. Many of their commercials seem utterly stupid upon first viewing (cavemen, Kash) but end up growing on me. One of my colleagues got a 3-D cardboard cutout of Kash in the mail and started putting it in random places in our breakroom. The day I saw it on top of our water cooler I started laughing out loud!

  2. I also liked (and missing in the overview) the numa numa guy spinn off with the gecko in the back on youtube http://bit.ly/mIAu

  3. ALFAC has pulled off the same thing with their talking duck. But as you mentioned, it takes a lot of ad buys to make the message stick.

  4. Ed Coffey says:

    The factor that seems to be missing from the negative critiques of Geico’s approach is that branding theory goes out the window when a big budget keeps the playing field uneven. Multiple front attacks are great when combined with saturation.

  5. I can recall pretty much every single Geico ad mentioned. But will I actually buy Geico insurance? Probably not. To me they don’t take themselves seriously enough to convince me that they’ll take my accident seriously.

    Obviously something is working for them though. Kudo’s on doing something different.

  6. If you think about it, the Geico campaigns are now more about the advertising than the product. And that’s ok with Geico, no doubt, because the only message they care about is “15 minutes can save you 15%”.

    The main task of the creative team, at this point, is not really branding, but entertaining, and it doesn’t really matter how they do it anymore. They have proven that.

  7. “15 minutes can save you 15%” is certainly one of GEICO’s brand messages. But they have others as well. They have ads talking about how using GEICO’s website to save money is “so easy a caveman can do it.” There are ads reminding people that GEICO insures motorcycles, RVs and other toys. They have ads for their roadside assistance program.

    What GEICO has decided is that it is okay to use a different creative vehicle for each message it wants to convey.

  8. butch cole says:

    Any company that foolishly wastes as much money on ads as geico, ( the old failed government employees ins co) couldn’t possibly have good insurance. Plus gearing the ads toward fools is counter productive for an insurance co..When my contract for tv service is up I will cancel pay tv because of so much ad time. 16 minutes out of every half hour is ridiculous. I will subscribe to netflix and pay to watch ads no more.

  9. Cameron Paul says:

    Can you say overkill ! Oh yeah, and overexposure. Enough is enough. Almost every media, TV, radio, You Tube has Geico commercials. I actually turn them down or change the channel i am so tired of hearing them. Anyone else?

  10. Agreed, overkill, overexposure, two things, I wonder about what kind of service you get given the amount of money for back to back 24 hours ads over multi channels, someone pays for those ads, guess who. Two, I will flip the channel to another network when these things come on, not returning, someone needs to tell the shows producers, Geico’s has the worst ads with music like Got to give me what I want, want, want, or the three idiots, one playing music on his mobile device, the other two something stupid. I couldn’t tell you the message of the ad when the over loud, flat music, sounds like a cheap 1960’s handheld radio, it is flipped. All I get from it? Geico has bad taste, in music, ads, and seems not to care how intrusive they are. What do they sell? Great company, right? Great ad, right? About the only good thing about them? They pulled their ads from Glenn Bleck.

  11. Many of their commercials seem utterly stupid upon first viewing (cavemen, Cash) but end up growing on me. One of my colleagues got a 3-D cardboard cutout of Cash in the mail and started putting it in random places in our breakroom.

  12. Barbara Mario says:

    Hello, I don’t think there is or has been a commercial that
    compares with the Geico lizard. This character is vey cleverly done. I hope this ad is never taken off. I truly enjoy all the ads that he is in. The only ads that even come close are the ones with pets in them.
    A True Geico Fan

  13. bridget says:

    No one hs mentioned results. what has GEICO’s ROI been on their $500+ billion?

  14. Thank God you finally have something new–the singers saying “Happy as a …. and the situations are funny. I had started several years ago to turn the TV screen off if that gecko ever came on. Funny for a few commercials, but then it went on forever. Kudos to whoever came up with SOMETHING NEW!

  15. And true to form Vicki, the singers are just as bizarre as all the other GEICO spots. Nay, more bizarre, because now we have a bizarre scene followed by a bizarre singing duo.

  16. Richard says:

    The ads are annoyingly stupid, poorly written, demeaning to viewers and actors alike, repetitive, intrusive, omnipresent … and for all those reason, unforgettable and effective for GEICO. On the other hand, I love Dean Winters as Mayhem but can’t ever seem to remember which insurance company he represents.

  17. watchandobserve says:

    I love the Geico commercials, and kudos to them for stepping outside of the box. Oh well, can’t please everyone, too many stick-in-the-muds in the world.

  18. Marketing101 says:

    I love everything the GEICO commercials put out there. The Gecko is my favorite and always will be, and their insurance is great from personal experience.

  19. Leonard Chenier says:

    I have a picture of a trer that looksl like a geiko

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