Geico Takes Varied Roads to Customers

Mar 12, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Armbruster

Special to TelevisionWeek

Could airing multiple television campaigns concurrently drive your sales?

We’ve seen a new and unique practice of running simultaneous and differing television campaigns representing the same product.

Could you counteract the television effort of a competitor by targeting your message to varied potential customer segments, each with a different version of the same message?

Does this strategy really work? And is it worth the extra expense?

Geico Insurance, with its three different TV campaigns, is an excellent example of this strategy at use.

We spoke with Ted Ward, vice president of marketing at Geico, and Steve Bassett, creative director at the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., about this breakthrough idea.

TelevisionWeek: First off, how did the creative ideas of the “Caveman,” the “Gecko” and the “Spokesperson” ads begin?
Steve Bassett: The Cavemen idea started with a simple laser-focused creative strategy to “tell people that Geico.com is easy to use.” Cavemen are historically dumb, reasoned the creative team, so we said, why don’t we say Geico.com is so easy to use a caveman could do it? Little did the creative team or Geico realize that cavemen are still around—and that they’re tired of being portrayed as Neanderthals.

The Gecko was created as a one-time spot to help people remember and pronounce the name “Geico.” Hence the Gecko’s dialogue in that very first Gecko commercial: ‘I’m the Gecko, not to be confused with Geico that can save you hundreds on car insurance. So please stop calling me!’ This was supposed to be just one spot, but like a lot of the advertising Geico does, the Gecko developed a loyal following. And as CGI [computer-generated imaging] has evolved, so has the Gecko. Today, he’s Geico’s self-aware advertising icon. He was voted America’s favorite ad icon in 2005.

The Geico “Testimonials” were developed more from an executional strategy. Geico was receiving hundreds of letters from happy Geico customers about the company’s great claims service. The challenge was, how do we execute a traditional advertising technique—the testimonial—in a fresh, engaging way? Or, put another way, how would Geico do a testimonial? The answer the creative team came up with was truly inspired. “Brenda Coates is a real Geico customer, not a paid celebrity. So to help tell her story, we’ve hired Mr. Burt Bacharach.” Or Little Richard or Charo or Peter Graves.”

TVWeek: What types of different customers do you want to reach with television?
Ted Ward: The Geico target demographic is very broad—basically anyone who drives a car and needs car insurance. That’s why we have a multilayered campaign strategy that has multiple campaigns running on television at the same time. Some people like the Cavemen. while some are huge Gecko fans. Others love our testimonial campaign and Little Richard screaming, ‘mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce!’ We use a lot of different tools in our marketing arsenal, but are probably best known for our presence on television.

TVWeek: What do you expect television to do for Geico?
Mr. Ward: Television helps make the Geico brand ubiquitous. If our customers stay in for the night, they see us. If they go out, there’s a good chance they’ll see us on a flat-screen in a restaurant, too. Car insurance isn’t a really high-interest category. People really only think about it when they need it or when they get a bill. Our job is to make them think about car insurance—and we like to do it in a fun, entertaining way. Our characters come to life on television in a way that America has fallen in love with. More than any other medium we use, we expect television to deliver our brand personality, and it delivers big-time.

TVWeek: Do you use your Web site as a “landing point” for consumers before they actually call?
Mr. Ward: We’ve worked hard to make access to our company really easy, no matter how our customers choose to reach out to us. If they’re comfortable online, they can get a rate, get a policy and even pay their bills right on Geico.com. If they want to start online and then move to one of our associates on the phone, they can do that, too. And of course our 1-800 phone number is always available. We even have a few offices around the country for folks who want to walk in and do it in person. We like to think that we are able to be reached online, over the phone or at a convenient local office.

Our Web site has become a huge part of our company in the past few years, and we promote the Web address in every television spot we run.

TVWeek: How is the series of campaigns going?
Mr. Ward: Our success has been phenomenal. In terms of premium growth, Geico has nearly quadrupled the size of the company, going from slightly under $3 billion in 1998 to more than $11 billion in 2006. We’re the fastest-growing car insurance company in America and our research shows that our brand recognition number is in the high 90-percent range. We believe a big part of our success is our great employees, our breakthrough, call-to-action advertising and our strong brand personality that is built and evolves every day and night on TV.

So clearly the concept of multiple campaigns does work. It is difficult to instantly recall any other insurance company television ad campaign, isn’t it?

Perhaps that’s the genius behind Geico’s strategy: to simply dominate the television airwaves with so many varied car insurance messages that any competitors’ TV ads are simply lost in the clutter.

Could this television planning strategy make sense for you?

We’d suggest that you consider the breadth of your targeted demographic, the scale of your ad budget and your commitment to a long-term television campaign. Geico is definitely “bought in,” and they use television advertising at the scale at which it was meant to be used.

Are you changing your message too often and cheating yourself of growth from a long-term, high-frequency campaign? Should you maintain your current television message longer than you are?

Archeologists have found hundreds of cave wall drawings, all of the same image. And today in advertising, “frequency of message” is the secret to a successful long-term campaign.

So maybe, just maybe, the cavemen weren’t so dumb after all.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the Red Bank, N.J.-based retail and broadcasting consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster and Co. He can be reached at adam@esacompany.com or at 941-928-7192.