GEICO and the Purpose of Advertising

GEICO Free Range Chick CommercialGEICO has been responsible for many of the best commercials that I’ve seen in recent years. Even when I don’t like them, I see that they are effective. Most of my friends hate them. This is probably because most of my friends are miserable bastards who insist upon being dissatisfied. I try not to take it as a personal slight — as effective as I may be at displeasing people. Anyway, I wanted to share two recent commercials that I admire.

In 2012, GEICO spent $1.1 billion on advertising. Most of that money no doubt goes to broadcasting. But they’ve got to pay a lot for the creation of content. I generally think there is a whole lot more creativity in the advertising community than in Hollywood. Not that there is much difference. See, for example, any superhero film.

The recent “What’s Your Reason” ads were created (apparently from concept to completion) by DCP Productions. I really like these ads. My friends hate them. But really, what’s not to like? The song is catchy as hell and the animation is simple and compelling:

Some of their biggest campaigns in the past were done by The Martin Agency. This includes the gecko and caveman ads, which (again), I like. My friends (again): not so much. I think there is a special hatred for the caveman commercials, but I’m not sure why. Recently, I’ve discovered another Martin Agency ad that I think is fabulous, “Free Range Chicken.” I haven’t talked to any of my friends about it, but it will speak ill of them if they don’t like this charming story:

I’ll admit: I just like chickens — especially when anthropomorphized to one extent or another. This commercial reminds me of Chicken Run when Rocky says, “You see, I’m a traveller by nature. I did that whole barnyard thing for a while but I couldn’t really get into it… The open road, that’s more my style. Yep, just give me a pack on my back and point me where the wind blows. In fact, you know what they call me back home? You’re gonna love this: The Lone Free Ranger.” Ah, chicken humor! You gotta love it, right? Right?

There was something that I ran into while researching this article. People have the wrong idea about how advertising works. They seem to be stuck in the early 19th century when advertisements were very straightforward: “I have something I would like to sell to you if you are looking for this something.” GEICO doesn’t spend a billion dollars per year to convince people that they are the best or cheapest insurance. They do it so that when you go shopping for insurance, you will think of the company. It is not surprising that the last time I bought auto insurance, I bought it from Esurance. I had no recollection of ever seeing an ad, but I now know that Esurance is one of the most advertised insurance companies in the world — although not nearly as advertised as GEICO.

So given that we are not very rational creatures and the corporate world totally manipulates us, the least we can do is to have entertaining commercials. Of course, GEICO spends 6.8% of its premiums on advertising — over twice that of the next biggest advertiser, Progressive. You might take that into account even while noticing that that’s a mighty fetching chicken. Just because we aren’t very rational doesn’t mean we can’t be more rational. Regardless, no one will buy GEICO insurance specifically because of the chicken. Or the rattlesnake.

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