Wrong lesson from the gecko?

I’m sure Geico has a marketing research budget larger than the GNP of most small countries, so I hesitate to criticize – but what the heck, I’ll do it anyway.  I think their new TV commercials – e.g., “Does Geico save you 15% or more on your car insurance?  Is the Pope German?” – are clever, funny, and unlikely to help them sell their products.

The Geico gecko is clever, funny, and has sold loads of insurance (helping Geico climb from about 5% market share five years ago to nipping at second-place Progressive’s heels today).   I suspect that there was one outstanding, non-subtle reason.  “Gecko” sounds like “Geico.”

“Geico” by itself is an obscure acronym and hard for consumers to remember when it counts – namely, when the premium increase comes and they have the impulse to check rates.   But after the gecko ads it was a cinch.  Even if viewers didn’t know what that species of lizard was called before, they did after chuckling at him a few dozen times.  So their brains went: “Cheap insurance.  The gecko.  Geico.  Let’s give them a try.”  The new campaign, by contrast, shows the little piggy going wee-wee-wee etc. one night and a soap-opera predicament the next.  What’s to remember?

I see a parallel with an even more famous but less effective advertising animal, the Energizer Bunny.  He may not have been as funny as the gecko but everybody knows him.  And during his salad days, Energizer steadily lost share to Duracell, which ran ads that weren’t a bit funny but always included the product’s “copper top” closing with a powerful-sounding clang.   So folks went to the store thinking, “Boy, those alkaline batteries sure make that bunny keep moving,” saw the copper tops on some batteries and thought “Copper top.  Right,” and bought Duracell.  Maybe if Energizer had been called “Bunny Cells” or had put fuzzy tails on their packages their commercials would have been effective as well as memorable.

My point is not that ads shouldn’t be amusing.  I like a good laugh as well as the next guy and heaven knows television could use more really amusing moments.   But when ads produce chuckles instead of an impulse to buy, or at least a strong favorable association with the brand, they’re not doing what the marketing folks are paid to do – sell the product.

If I’m right, why is such a sharp marketer as Geico doing this?    Maybe their research shows the gecko’s appeal is waning and they just have to try other stuff to fill the gap.  Or maybe they just don’t track messages to sales.  It could be a classic case of “I know half my ad budget is wasted but I don’t know which half.”  Which we direct marketers, of course, never never never say…do we?

Mike Baum
Sophia Consulting LLC

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About mhbaumk12

Mike Baum has 40 years of experience with all types of direct marketing, has run several companies, spent 25 years as a consultant in franchising and in K-12 education, and currently helps companies find solutions to growth challenges.
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