Spokescharacters are like costumes for brands and corporations. Just like trick or treating, the more likeable the costume, the more the candy.
In the ad world, the ability to charm millions and lick your own eye at the same time is a prized super power indeed. This little super spokescharacter fits the bill. And, with the 600 mil. a year GEICO has spent on advertising, he certainly generates a few bills as well. Mesmerizing is the nonchalant charm of his accented banter about this point or that or no point at all. In 2000, get ready, originally the lovable lizard had an American accent, but for marketing reasons it was changed to a Cockney accent. If you were thinking that the concept for a gecko as a spokescharacter had anything to do with the potentially phonetic likeness of the company’s name, well, you’d be right. The company’s name was commonly mispronounced “gecko.” So, no wonder. Plus, the successful use of animal characters in association with a product or company is practically axiomatic.
Introduced in 2004, the cavemen were conceived as the company’s spokescharacters for promoting their website’s ease-of-use: “So easy a caveman could do it.” Originally, the first three spots were all that were planned and those ran for two years. It was Internet buzz about the hairy, slope-browed cro-magnons that brought them back in 2006. An interesting point is that this caveman campaign revolves around a fictitious advertising campaign. The spots feature various scenarios of individual and community caveman backlash to the degrading advertising. The tongue-in-cheek spots are often bizarre, sometimes barely connected with the original campaign message itself, but their humor is what has made the cavemen, small or large, a part of pop culture and pulled off the fancy trick of making socially acceptable what is basically an underlying humorous theme of racism (or “speciesism” as the case may be). Goodness gracious! There was even a short-lived sitcom starring the cavemen in 2007!
Celebrities and Testimonials
Why not both? GEICO has also run ads that play on both of these tried and true ad strategies, in a unique fusion though. Real person, paid celebrity. These ads featured not “celebrity testimonials” as is the convention, but positive stories from customers assisted in the telling by such quirky celebs as Charo, James Lipton, Burt Bacharach and Little Richard.
(You Could Be Saving)
Why stop at a tagline? “The money you could be saving at GEICO” didn’t. No surprise in a tough, “save”-driven economic climate, huh? Its official name is Kash. Ads featuring people looking around perplexed, as if back-of-their-neck prickles were alerting them to being watched, and then suddenly encountering a neat little stack of money with a set of plastic wiggly eyes, with accompanying background music of a cover song of the ’80s one-hit-wonder “Somebody’s Watching Me.” C’mon! Catchy tune and no actor or voice-over fees or entanglement, too. Remember the “Ronald McDonald” who sued when Mickey-D’s Corporate decided it was time to freshen things up, at least marketing-wise? The character itself has an economic undertone as well: probably not a safe bet to do a million-dollar special effects campaign with a specific focus on saving money.
Life Imitates Marketing
(or “Where are they now?”)
No spokescharacter ever truly dies. Some fall out of use or become so unknown as to seem like they’re pushing up cartoon daisies, but even then they are simply moving on to the trademark afterlife known as public domain and become a part of marketing history.
To all the spokescharacters that have faded away or been replaced, we pay our respects and thank you for putting an interesting face to branding and marketing.