Kel Kelly

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GEICO’s Multiple Personalities

August 30, 2010 10:33 AM

I get giddy when a brand flies in the face of conventional wisdom and breaks the “best practices” rules established by marketing pundits. First, let me say I loathe the term “best practices.” It reminds me of consultant speak and in the end, it essentially means playing it safe by doing what everyone else is doing. Yawn.

When it comes to the representation of a brand, boxed-in best practices would have you believe a single iconic representation is the right thing to do. This has certainly proven a smart yet safe strategy for many brands. From the Enegizer Bunny to Tony The Tiger to the Jolly Green Giant to the Pillsbury Dough Boy, these brands have seen success through leveraging a single icon over many decades. Well, GEICO clearly doesn’t give a lizard’s tail what other brands have done.

Not only is GEICO leveraging three brand icons at once, the personalities of these icons could not be more different. And, one might argue that the icons they have chosen are not necessarily representative of the attributes you would want to communicate the brand essence of an insurance company.

The GEICO Gecko is a humble, endearing, guy-next-door kind of character who lately spends most of his time trying to survive the mishaps and ideas of a overly corny, unoriginal GEICO executive. Given the similarities between the words “GEICO” and “gecko” the brand wasn’t taking as big a risk as Aflac did when they choose a hapless, annoying duck as its brand icon. The gecko character along with the call to action of “fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance” was very successful. Most brands would have stayed the course for decades leveraging this single icon. Not GEICO. Somewhere in the land of “dare to be different,” they decided creating a neanderthal as a brand icon was going to be their next move. Even more interesting was that they chose not to replace the gecko but to add it as second icon which I’m sure sent the marketing know-it-alls into a green tailspin. Can you imagine how many employees fought this decision? Can you imagine how many pundits predicted this brand strategy would fall flat?

As everyone knows, the GEICO Cavemen live in today’s world and appear to be fitting in until they encounter and insulting ad stating “GEICO: so easy a caveman could do it.” The cavemen couldn’t be further from the personality of the gecko in that they are somewhat cocky, desperately seeking hipness, definitely not cute and in need of a wax. But it worked. It broke the best practices brand rules and thrived in spite of it.

So now they have the gecko and the cavemen. They took a risk and it paid off. However, instead of breathing a sigh of relief and high fiving each other until the geckos come home, in a Sybil-like move, GEICO decides to introduce a third icon to the brand lineup. But it is not just the addition of this incremental icon that is so surprising, it’s that they chose to make the icon a creepy, voyeuristic pile of cash with eyes. Seriously, the peeps at GEICO must flip the bird day in and day out to anyone who says “best practices.”  Known as GEICO Kash, the icon always appears with the line “the money you could be saving.” More money, more messaging. From “15 minutes…” to “so easy..” to “money…saving…” GEICO votes consistency off the island quicker than Gatorade drop-kicked Tiger.

And oh by the way, in addition to the ads that run the three icons cited above, GEICO is executing “Rhetorical Question” and “Talking Objects” ads as well. While not as icon driven, the ads add more messaging and complexity to the brand.

Hats off to The Martin Agency for not only identifying a complex, multi-tiered brand strategy, but for getting a bunch of insurance execs to buy off on it. That feat is certainly not so easy that a caveman could do it.

Who is your favorite GEICO personality?

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Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

8 Comments on “GEICO’s Multiple Personalities”

  1. Deirdre Says:

    I really enjoyed this post! So true – GEICO has done a fantastic job with their icon choices. In an icon line up, I bet the majority of broadcast media viewers could pick out the Kash, the gecko & the caveman as GEICO’s! Interestingly enough, years ago I worked on one of the country’s largest life insurance company. They had a very strong, recognizable tagline “Real Life. Real Answers.” But never had a strong icon associated with the brand. Their biggest competitor had what some may have considered an odd choice for a brand icon in the beginning – but to this day – he is one of the most recognized icons associated with life insurance in history. Snoopy is the icon – bet you can guess what brand he STILL represents today! :)

  2. Kel Says:

    deirdre, it is funny you bring up snoopy. just last night i saw an metlife ad with snoopy. i commented out loud on how dull the ads were. geico really gets edgy with their advertising versus a boring execution of snoopy navigating the “ifs” in life. however, i am a metlife customer. maybe it’s time i switch insurance companies. i never want to be associated with a dull brand.

    on a side note, i can’t for the life of me remember which insurance company did the “real life. real answers” campaign. guess that says it all.

  3. Frank Chiera Says:

    Kel, who would have thought a company named Government Employees Insurance Co. would make insurance hip and fresh! They did, and now that friggin reptile, the swarthy yet sensitive cro-magnon dudes and creepy wad-o-cash with fake doll eyes are all part of our pop culture forever. BRILLIANT!

    I think we also need to thank Warren Buffet and/or the top brass at Berkshire Hathaway for green lighting some of the biggest ad budgets any American company has ever seen. At one point I believe they were spending upward of 40% of their total sales in advertising. Holy instant awareness!

    Your point is dead on also, when I think of insurance company execs, my stereotypical thought is to paint them as peeps who wear lots of synthetic fabric, love actuary tables and high-five over a drop in claim response time. It’s so funny that as GEICO nipped at all the big companies heals (Allstate, State Farms, etc), they were so slow to respond that they now find themselves having to defend their slipping market share lost to GEICO.

    I love that GEICO built their brand through unconventional marketing genius.

    Great post Kel, I really enjoyed this.

  4. Kel Says:

    frank, i’m glad you brought up the “government employee insurance company” point. i was going to work it into my post, but it felt forced. my guess is that 99% of consumers have no idea that was how the brand originated.

  5. Dianna Huff Says:


    Personally, I like the cash with eyeballs icon because the message is so clear — “You will save this pile of cash.” Who wouldn’t be drawn to that?

    I also like how Geico added consumer generated video to their site — see:

    Most companies just ignore this stuff. They embraced it.

    Great post!

  6. Kel Says:

    dianna, thanks for sharing that link! i love when a brand opens itself up to all social media has to offer — the good, the bad and the ugly.

  7. Caz Wilson Says:

    Great post Kel – the Geico lizard is a great brand representation and I love the spin they use on his accent which, being a Brit, I’m convinced is an English one!

    On the subject of unique characters take a look at this UK ad (I’m sure you’ve seen it) featuring Aleksandr Orlov who is the founder of –

    In an attempt to differentiate themselves from other insurance comparison sites, were highly acclaimed for creating a meerkat fed up of people coming to his site for cheap car insurance – classic!

  8. Kel Says:

    caz, thanks for sharing the link. that is hilarious and i hadn’t seen it. too funny.

    as i understand it, the gecko’s accent is supposed to be cockney. when the campaign originally launched, he didn’t have the accent. they added it as a means to make him stand out. i love his accent and think it makes the character more endearing. cheers!

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