GEICO’s Crazy Ad Strategy Breaks the Rules


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

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”

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”

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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