Apr 28, 2011

Bob Meagher offers ample advice
to SCAD students on GEICO

Courtesy: SCAD Advertising

I had the pleasure of attending a talk on Wednesday evening by Martin Agency creative, Bob Meagher. He addressed an audience of SCAD students at the Arnold Hall Auditorium. During his 22 years as Art Director and Copywriter at Martin, Meagher has worked on a number of campaigns for a range of clients - the most well-known of these would be GEICO.

Here are a few points I gathered from the GEICO story:

  • In 1994, GEICO came to Martin Agency with the goal to grow faster. At the time they were only a small player in the car insurance market.

  • At that time, GEICO and the car insurance industry had several barriers which needed to be overcome to establish the brand - car insurance is a low interest category, GEICO had low brand awareness, other insurance companies employed scare tactics to sell their services which put potential customers off and GEICO were seen to be a car insurance best suited for good drivers only.

  • The core tagline for GEICO was developed back then and hasn't changed:

    "15 minutes could save you 15% or more on your car insurance."

  • The key message in this tagline is that switching to GEICO is a simple process and is cheaper than competitors. Early TV ads in this campaign included "Squirrels", "Chatty Cathy" and "Tiny House."

  • The Martin Agency adopted a "Gilligan's Island vs LOST" philosophy where instead of the more traditional single brand message campaigns used by others (like the series Gilligan's Island), they would push the GEICO brand using multiple campaign storylines (like the series LOST) . This strategy built a modern, contemporary, multi-faceted brand.

The GEICO Gecko
  • The GEICO Gecko was developed and eventually evolved into a wise-cracking lizard with an everyday Englishman accent who was clever and self aware as an advertising icon.

The GEICO Cavemen
  • The Cavemen became another set of GEICO branded characters who are characterized as being sophisticated and smart but "stuck somewhere between 1986 and 1988". They appear to be offended by GEICO taglines that state "So easy a caveman can do it."

  • There was also a series of GEICO commercials which lay down a misdirection only to spring the line:

    "I just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to GEICO."

    GEICO's "Kash"
  • Starting in 2008, two paper-banded stacks of U.S. bills with a pair of big, buggy eyes on top - known of "Kash", was used as another character who would remind people that:

    "This is the money you could be saving by switching to GEICO."

    GEICO's "Question Guy".
  • Other more recent well-known campaigns include the "Overly Serious, Hard-Boiled Question Guy" (played by actor Mike McGlone) who always follows up the key tagline with a rhetorical question (e.g. "Elmer Fudd", "Dogs & Cats"), "What you are about to see may shock you" commercials (e.g."Octopus") and the XtraNormal ads targeting twenty-somethings (e.g. "Grandpa", "Superheroes").

  • Eventually these campaigns became so well known they filtered into mainstream culture with references to the different taglines popping up everywhere and even attracting YouTube parodies (e.g. Matsuda, Googly Eyes) and a GEICO YouTube channel which engages the audience.

  • Meagher stressed that wear-out factors determine whether a campaign needs to be dropped and if an idea has run its course.

I found the talk quite entertaining, especially as someone who has only seen these GEICO commercials sporadically over the years.

And I can't believe there are people out there who think the Gecko is Australian. Are British and Australian accents really that hard to tell apart?

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