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Marketing Moments: The Gecko and GEICO

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The American Enterprise team has been working with the creative minds at The Martin Agency, the award-winning advertising firm in Richmond, VA, to understand how contemporary advertising works. We asked several of them to blog about what they do and how they are changing the contemporary marketplace through advertising. In this post, Steve Basset tells the story behind Gary the Gecko, one of GEICO’s most popular advertising mascots.

- Kathleen Franz, American Enterprise curatorial team

Ten years ago GEICO wasn’t nearly the household name it is today. In fact, many consumers had a hard time even pronouncing GEICO — not exactly ideal for a challenger brand that needed all the brand awareness it could get.

In 1999, Ted Ward, who runs the advertising department at GEICO, and Ken Spera, who at the time was an art director at The Martin Agency, were talking over dinner on a business trip.

Ted, as he always does, stated the problem succinctly: “People can’t even pronounce our name! How can we expect them to call us for a rate quote?” Suddenly it was like an episode out of Mad Men. The creative guy takes out a pen, grabs a bar napkin, and starts manically sketching something. Here is what Ken drew:

An early sketch of the "Gecko" mascot, drawn on a napking by Ted Ward.

An early sketch of the “Gecko” mascot, drawn on a napkin by Ted Ward. Image courtesy of GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc.

 

Gary the Gecko? Ted wasn’t crazy about the name “Gary.” But he was intrigued with the idea of a gecko because it sounded so much like GEICO. A visual/verbal mnemonic could go a long way in helping people recognize and remember the brand.

Then, as serendipity sometimes does, it unexpectedly adds momentum to a big idea. An actors’ strike in Hollywood was about to severely limit Ted’s casting options for an upcoming GEICO ad campaign. So, whom do you do cast when you can’t cast humans?

The first Gecko spot ran in the fall of 1999. In the TV ad, the Gecko is holding a press conference, and surprisingly, he is NOT a fan of GEICO.

Since 1999 the Gecko and GEICO have come a long way together. At this writing, GEICO is America’s third largest and fastest growing car insurance company. And the Gecko? He eventually joined the company and was named by Advertising Age as one of advertising’s most recognized and memorable icons.

Steve Bassett is the Group Creative Director at The Martin Agency

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    About the Author

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    Kathleen FranzKathleen Franz is Associate Professor and Director of Public History in the History Department at American University and curator for the American Enterprise exhibition. Learn more about the exhibition team.View all posts by Kathleen Franz

    • http://www.studydog.com/ Allison Watkins

      Gecko and Geico, I still get them mixed up. That’s a very tough branding campaign. If it works though it could be amazing.