GEICO: Choosing to Break Up Monotony With Variety

March 15, 2012

Choosing to Break Up Monotony With Variety

By STUART ELLIOTT, NY Times

HE is traveling “from sea to shining sea,” he declares, at a prodigious pace, visiting states with lots of electoral votes like California, New York and Texas as well as states with just a few like Nevada. And what he calls his “journey of epic proportions” is the subject of advertising worth tens of millions of dollars, on television and radio and on social media like Facebook and YouTube.

But no, he is not running for president. For one thing, his accent suggests he is not a natural-born American citizen. For another, he is not even human.

The “he” in question is the Geico gecko brand character, who is appearing in a campaign devised around a . The campaign is joining at least five others that are currently promoting the insurance sold by the Geico Corporation, part of Berkshire Hathaway.

Geico likes to run several types of campaigns at the same time, each with a different theme. Its approach has inspired other insurers — among them Allstate, Progressive and State Farm — to pursue a similar strategy.

“We do have more than one arrow in the quiver, that’s for sure,” said Ted Ward, vice president and chief marketing officer at Geico.

“The common thread is the little green guy is ever-present in the mix,” he added, as the Geico “brand ambassador.”

The intent of the multiple campaigns is “trying to keep things fresh for the consumer,” Mr. Ward said.

“We do some research,” he added, which finds that “people have some likes and dislikes” among the campaigns.

In addition to the gecko’s journey, they now include commercials that carry the theme “There’s an easier way to save”; ads that depict the Geico cavemen characters playing golf and tennis; commercials featuring an anthropomorphic pig that likes car, zip line and street luge rides; straightforward ads for motorcycle insurance; and magazine ads, tailored to the publications in which they appear, meant to remind readers that “it only takes 15 minutes to see how much you could save with Geico.”

Each campaign “has a purpose,” Mr. Ward said. “As long as each accomplishes its purpose, we’re comfortable with running more than one at a time.”

“And we have some more coming,” he added.

The variety of campaigns is a tactic intended to offset fatigue that may set in among consumers who encounter the enormous amount of Geico ads that fill traditional and new media.

Geico spent $772.5 million on advertising last year, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, up 3.8 percent from the $743.9 million spent in 2010 and up 25.2 percent from the $617 million spent in 2009.

“The Gecko’s Journey Across America,” as the peripatetic campaign is called, began in the fall and is to continue for a year. The starting point in the initial commercial was the Geico headquarters in Chevy Chase, Md., a Washington suburb, and the final commercial will be set in Washington, Mr. Ward said.

The campaign stemmed from discussions between Mr. Ward and the creative team at the Martin Agency, the longtime Geico agency, that were inspired, he said, by a bit of gecko biography: he had never been “on the road” because he is always “behind the desk.”

After leaving the parking lot of the Geico headquarters, the gecko’s next stop on video was the , followed by , and, most recently, . There are also “Gecko Cam” video clips appearing on YouTube, such as one in which the lizard meets in Times Square.

The trip can also be followed on Facebook, at facebook.com/thegeicogecko, where there are videos, photographs and comments, and on Twitter, where the gecko’s feed includes remarks like this: “I felt guilty today because I haven’t visited the gym in ages. Then I remembered, ‘Oh yes, I’m walking across the entirety of America.’ ”

(If he walked on four legs rather than two, perhaps he could lose twice the weight.)

“As if he were an actual person traveling across the country, he posts everything he does,” said Anne Marie Hite, a creative director and copywriter at Martin in Richmond, Va., part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

Although the journey’s timing with a presidential election year is a coincidence, she said, her partner on the campaign, Adam Stockton, a senior art director at Martin, said it does provide “a unique point of view of America.”

And “as most tourists experience, he may get into a little bit of trouble,” Mr. Stockton said. Indeed, the Las Vegas spot evokes “The Hangover” with the tiger and Mike Tyson from the movie replaced by a kangaroo and Richard Simmons.

Unlike the travelers in a current , the gecko has so far not had to ask Siri for directions to “the best barbecue in Kansas City” or Santa Cruz, Calif.

“We’ll have to do that” in a future spot, Ms. Hite, said, laughing.

Ms. Hite and Mr. Stockton praised the work on the campaign by the Framestore New York unit of Framestore, a visual effects company that, he said, “integrated the gecko into the environments” faithfully enough that “he doesn’t look composited.”

Ms. Hite noted how, in the commercial set on the Brooklyn Bridge, the gecko “interacts with the cracks as he walks across” and even, at one point, “stumbles a bit.”

But not too much. After all, restaurants in Brooklyn are far more likely to serve gizzard than lizard.

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