Thursday, February 19, 2009

Geico Gecko - a strategy which makes sense

When a green reptile, friendly or otherwise, tries to influence your decision about something as major as car-insurance, you may not take him seriously. But over the years, the Geico Gecko has done just the opposite and has grown to become the third-largest personal auto insurer in the US. The lizard struck the right chord with the target demo, so much so, that it was voted America's favorite advertising icon in 2005.

The campaign scored on brand recall. What could be more recognizable than a bright green lizard talking jauntily with a distinctly British accent?
But now the stakes are higher. There are financially unstable companies all round. Which is why Geico's longtime agency, the Martin Agency (part of the Interpublic Group of Companies), has unleashed a secret weapon that can make a great impact in today's market. The latest campaign is all about how Geico is owned by none other than Berkshire Hathaway. And yes, the brand message makes ample use of Mr Warren Buffet himself.

From the New York Times of Feb 18, 2009: According to Ted Ward, vice president for marketing at Geico - “The strategy for this is driven by the need to emphasize to people there’s a way to save money without risking hitting stability, trust, the right things to be talking about in this environment."
"It becomes a little more interesting that we’re a piece of this really, really solid company,” he added, referring to Berkshire Hathaway. “There are not many triple-A-rated companies left in the world; it doesn’t hurt we’re one of them.”"

What also doesn't hurt is the Geico Gecko's confident persona, which is why it is far more acceptable than any other campaign clouded by financial worries. I mean, how can anyone not smile at a talking lizard spouting financial wisdom wearing no pants or even a suit for that matter? A point made in some of its recent ads, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek manner. In one spot, the Geico Gecko is given a tiny suit coz' "Looking a bit more businesslike might help."
The recent strategy to incude the Buffet name is one of the many moves of this insurance giant, most of which have served it well. What also helps Geico is that it delivers on its promises. I know because I use it. Finally, it is all about the product. But advertising when done right can breathe life into a good product and make it a brand to reckon with. Advertising will not create a brand benefit, it will simply convey it to the right audience, effectively. On the other hand, as William Bernbach said "A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it's bad."

If you are in the mood for a laugh, check out two of the spots at

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Super Bowl Commercials - why spend so much money on them?

So much is being written about the Super Bowl commercials. The spots are being rated, categorized, praised and criticized. Well, nothing new about that. What is new though is that companies are reducing costs and struggling to survive in this economic slowdown.

According to, the game attracts almost 100 million viewers, a rather astonishing number given that there are only about 300 million people in the country. In 2008, the official price of a Super Bowl ad was $2.7 million for 30 seconds. This was up from $2.6 million in 2007 and $2.5 million in 2006.

Guess what, this year, it was a whopping $3 million for 30 seconds. Of course, it offers a great marketing opportunity for big brands with big budgets. But does that justify the ad spend? Most advertising agencies in US would jump at the prospect of creating a Super Bowl commercial. For once, the Creative Department would accomodate crazy deadlines and make life that much easier for the Account Management guys. But I can't seem to get rid of this doubt...does spending millions on a commercial make business sense in this economic situation?

Companies are freezing salaries, people are getting laid off, big organizations are downsizing and even the holidays couldn't make people spend like they did last year or the year before that. So why this sudden splurge?

The Super Bowl spot is best used to launch a new product or create long-term brand associations. Remember Toyota Prius and Macintosh? Both made their debut during the Super Bowl. And then we have Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, Audi, Castrol Oil...the endless list of long-term brand builders with deep pockets and fancy computer graphics. But are today's worried consumers listening? Seems like they are...but only to which concern them.

According to Media-Research firm Innerscope, the top 5 most emotionally engaging Super Bowl ads had everything to do with the present state of the economy. CareerBuilder and Cash4Gold being case in point. Even Hyundai, with their Assurance Program is making an impact on consumers scared of losing their jobs.

Obviously, if an ad sends out the right message at the right time, the target demographic will be engaged but will they be convinced enough to buy something they don't really need? With tips to live frugally flooding the web, will a car-chase or a talking monkey move the American people to shell out their hard-earned dollars? Will a "laugh-out-loud" moment or a "feel-good" ad make us reach out for our wallet?

No, I don't think it will. What it will do though is inject a drop of hope into our minds. Making us imagine a world filled with brand new product possibilities, a healthy rise in consumer demand and subsequently a recovering economy. For now, it is all a dream. But, doesn't all great achievements start with one?