Geico’s advertising is hard to miss. A billion dollars in annual spending will do that for you.
We all know the Cockney-accented lizard and the indignant cavemen. Both campaigns evolved to be more about the characters than about anything Geico might do for you, the consumer.
Some other Geico campaigns haven’t had the same staying power: Take the recent “taste-test” campaign, which wasn’t funny and made no sense, and left me wondering if Geico’s ad agency was on some kind of winking “meta” trip, in which they poke fun at the institution of advertising, you know, while they advertise heavily.
The new “Happier Than” campaign may be the worst of the bunch. This is the one in which some kind of curious situation sets up the punchline, brought to us by a couple of guys on guitar and mandolin:
“You know, Ronnie, folks who save hundreds of dollars by switching to Geico sure are happy.”
“And how happy are they, Jimmy?”
“I’d say happier than a slinky on an escalator.”
Or: “Happier than Gallagher at a farmer’s market.”
Or: “Happier than Eddie Money running a travel agency.”
Some people chuckle, which is a fine result if you’re a stand-up comic. I maintain that it’s crap advertising. Here are my two primary issues with “Happier Than”:
It’s wholly undifferentiated. Except for the brief reference to “saving hundreds,” this is the rare campaign that could be applied to any other brand, not only in the category, but in the world. The claim is “Geico customers are happy.” There’s no support – for instance, are they happier than State Farm or Allstate customers? It just says “they’re happy.” Any brand could say that, and every bit as credibly.
There’s no substance. Some Geico competitors are running counter-ads showing that some shoppers actually save money by switching away from Geico. Others, like Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign, illustrate the downsides of cut-rate insurance. Meanwhile, Geico sticks to jokes and vague claims (“…sure are happy,” “15 minutes could save you 15%,” etc.).
“Quit your bitching, Matthew,” you might say. “Geico is growing, so the ads must be working!” And I’d first applaud you for actually checking the sales needle. Geico is the #1 provider of auto insurance through direct channels in the U.S., with revenue of $15.7 billion last year (up 7.5% over 2010, and an impressive 73% since 2004).
I would then note that advertising is never the sole reason for growth. And that if you spent a billion dollars annually on advertising, you’d grow your business with almost any campaign you could conceive. Geico’s growth doesn’t mean the ads are perfect. We as brand-builders should ask better questions: Are the ads working as well as they should? With smarter ads, could Geico spend less and achieve more?
If Geico’s ads have worked, it’s more attributable to choices other than the campaign ideas. For instance, I’d give Geico high marks for:
Consistency. Geico has kept the same tagline for years, to the point that most of us could probably recite it.
Commitment. Geico has saturated its primary medium, television. Media Post News reports that, in 2011, one of every six advertising dollars in the insurance category was spent by Geico.
It can be tempting for those of us with smaller ad budgets to learn the wrong lessons – to believe that advertising that entertains is advertising that works, because we see this kind of campaign so often from the Geicos and Bud Lights of the world. But just because they do something doesn’t mean it works, and even if it works for them, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. Again, a big budget can hide a lot of mistakes.
As I’ve stated in this blog many times, your job as a brand-builder is not to entertain. It is to motivate. And to maximize your business-building investments. Anything short of that has to be considered a failure.
What are your thoughts on Geico’s advertising, and the use of humor at the expense of substance? Please add your thoughts in a comment below.
Need help defining what makes your brand (and thus your advertising) different? Three Deuce Branding can help.
About Matthew Fenton: Matthew founded Three Deuce Branding in 1997 with a simple mission: “To help good people build great brands.” He’s a former CMO who repeatedly led underdog brands to dramatically outpace the market, and now he does the same for the clients he serves. Businesses with revenues of seven to ten figures trust Matthew to help them achieve “brand clarity” through core brand strategy and positioning. Matthew is also a highly-rated speaker. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.
Copyright 2012 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.