Geico Gecko on the couch -- Well, on the Phone, Anyway

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Quite apart from being one of the most amusing things to hit the small screen in years, the Geico Gecko has driven double-digit growth in sales for the car insurer, an aggressive No. 4 player chasing market leaders State Farm and Allstate. Backed by some serious media weight, the Gecko's success has sparked an ad-spending war in the category, with outlay by the big four rising 20% each of the last two years to over $1 billion.

So Adages was delighted when the Gecko's creators, the Martin Agency, agreed to put the Gecko himself on the phone with one of our team. But who to choose to interview a Cockney-talking lizard? Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom-another bleedin' Brit-decided to pull rank (something about "I'm the only who really understands him ...").

This is an edited transcript of the interview. To listen to it, go to AdAge.com or iTunes, where it's available as a podcast.

Bloom: Um, thank you very much for taking the time, Mr. Gecko ... is it OK if I call you Mr. Gecko or do you have another name? Gordon perhaps?

Gecko: No, no, jus' call me whatever you want, mate. Just keep it clean, eh? But I'd rather you call Geico. Ah, you see how it works? I'm already talking about Geico. Either way, just relax, mate. Have a cup of tea, whatever. It's just me.

Bloom: OK, I get that, and I don't want this to become an ad for Geico. So, let's talk about the genesis of this campaign. Whose idea was it for you to become the pitchman for Geico?

Gecko: Some genius, apparently. Nah, I'm joking. I've got no idea whose idea it was. Well, I seriously think somebody in some room somewhere threw a No. 2 at the ceiling, they realized Geico sounds like gecko, and it was off to the races. Next thing you know, I'm on the telly telling people how to save money on car insurance. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but that's basically how it works. Welcome to advertising, eh?

Bloom: Right, and I guess that's my question because, I mean, what does a gecko have to do with car insurance anyway?

Gecko: That's like asking what does a giant have to do with green beans? What does a boy made of dough have to do with biscuits? Right? A soft, cuddly teddy bear promotes fabric softener, and you want an explanation? Empty shelves at the grocery store. That's your explanation.



Bloom: At the beginning of the campaign, you seemed to spend more time indoors and going to the office-there was even that period when you had that red convertible that you drove to the Geico HQ every day. Why return to the jungle?

Gecko: Well, I've got a lot of family in the jungle. It's always good to get back, you know, check in on me mum. See the lads. Watch a bit of football. Love it.

Bloom: So, in the marketing business, they talk a lot about return on investment and how you measure the success of a campaign. And I guess in your case I want to know, how big a star are you, and how do you personally measure your success?

Gecko: I don't think of myself in those terms, mate. Look what I said, right: I'm just doing the job they ask me to do. There are a thousand ways to measure success, yeah? Am I happy? Am I true to myself? Am I authentic? I mean, I wake up in the morning, and I open my eyes, and I say to myself, "Oi!" right, "If you're not ..." Nah, actually, first I say is, "Good morning, me," right, then I'm like, "Oi! If you're not going to bring your A-game today, then don't even bother getting out of bed, mate." I mean, most days, of course, I pop right out, but every once in a while, there are days where I just lie in bed all day, because I had nothing but B-game.

Bloom: I see, yeah, and, um, that's obviously how you measure your success personally, but what do you think you've done for Geico?

Gecko: Well, you'd have to ask them that question, wouldn't ya, eh? I mean, I can only hope I've lived up to their expectations. Because we all know there are plenty of geckos out there. One wrong step, and I could wake up in the ol' terrarium.

Bloom: All right. I'm going to try and get at this question another way, Mr. Gecko. Uh, now, I know Geico's gained double-digit share in net premiums written for the last few years. But what I want to know is, how much of that do you put down to you, how much down to the media weight behind your campaign, and how much down to Geico's price offerings?

Gecko: Sorry, no offense, mate, but I think I actually dozed off a bit while you were asking that question. Now look, I thought we were gonna talk about pie and chips, right? And here you are asking about media weight.

Bloom: We can talk about pie and chips. What about pie and chips? Do you think you've increased pie sales? (Or did you actually mean flies and chips?)

Gecko: Flies? Do I look like I like flies? Give it a rest, mate. I think there might have been a little bump in pie sales once people figured out what I was talking about. Probably more chicken and mushroom than steak and kidney, but who knows? I'd love to see some numbers on that. Maybe a segmentation study.

Bloom: Up until now, you've tended to focus on Geico's value plays-you know, free quotes online and so on. But the market's becoming increasingly competitive. So are you going to start focusing a little more on emotional values or Geico's service?

Gecko: Nah, nah, that's all I focus on, mate. That's why I exist. It's like I've said before: You can talk about Geico's great rates all day long, right, but if you don't do it in an entertaining way, people are gonna change the channel. The day I look in the mirror and am not amused is the day I walk away from the game.

Bloom: Definitely, definitely. To what extent were you inspired by other icons? Do you have any icon role models? The Pillsbury Doughboy, perhaps? Mr. Peanut?

Gecko: No, no, look, I respect all of my fellow icons. It's a tough job. And everyone does it well-they bring their own thing to it. See, but I'm not classically trained in advertising iconography like most of those guys, am I? They were sort of first on the beach, so to speak. I kind of just wing it. More of a sort of an improvisational ad icon, if you will.

Bloom: I take it you really are a Brit, or is that just all part of your act?

Gecko: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Ken Wheaton is on vacation and is afraid of talking lizards. He'll be back next week.
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