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A combination of humor, concise messages and outstanding customer response was the key to success Oct. 24 for Geico Direct Auto Insurance and the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

Geico's "Sensible Alternative" TV campaign, featuring customers screaming into phones and a man causing an apparent earthquake upon learning they can save money with Geico, received the Direct Marketing Association's Diamond Echo award during the group's 40th annual awards ceremony in Toronto.

"They make you laugh, and when a bunch of direct marketing and ad executives are laughing out loud about insurance, then you've got an absolutely breakthrough creative piece," said Brian Anderson, chairman of the awards committee.

The $30 million campaign, handled by Martin since 1993, has been successful for several years, said Ken Spera, senior art director. The 15-second spots in 1998, emphasizing Geico's ability to offer low premiums and 24-hour service, helped increase phone responses by 44% over 1997.

"Geico doesn't want to come across like other car insurance companies," Mr. Spera said. "They want to come off as something different."

Gold, silver and bronze Echoes and three special awards, including the Diamond Echo, were presented to the 60 finalists chosen from among 956 entries representing 40 countries.


In addition to Geico, six other gold Echoes were presented to:

* Aer Lingus and Dialogue Marketing Communications, Dublin, for "A Sparkling Opportunity," promoting a diamond giveaway in mailings to travel agents to promote a new flight.

* AT&T Corp. and Modem Media-Poppe Tyson, Norwalk, Conn., for "AT&T World Traveler," a campaign distributing AT&T's international direct access numbers online before customers start their travels.

* CIT Group and Janine Miller Inc., Tenafly, N.J., for "Partners for the Long Climb," a mailing to prospective clients that included a mountaineering ax, coil of climbing rope and a Nikon camera to demonstrate the group could secure clients on difficult financial terrain.

* General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac/GMC and McCann Relationship Marketing, New York, for "Envoy," a campaign that sent European postcards from two fictional brothers traveling in their Envoy to potential customers to promote the small sport-utility vehicle.

* Land Rover U.K. and Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel, London, for Range Rover's "Away From Civilization," a mail campaign that resulted in $14 million in new sales after rivals' clients were invited to attend an off-road driving weekend.

* World Vision U.S. and Russ Reid Co., Pasadena, Calif., for "Birthday Bounceback," a campaign that asked sponsors to sign a birthday poster for a child and send a check to help in the community.

Two special professional awards were presented in addition to the Diamond Echo:

* The U.S. Postal Service's Gold Mailbox went to the Bank of New Zealand and Aim Direct, Auckland, for their successful campaign promoting the bank's rural division by sending 800 farmers fence posts.

* The Henry Hoke Award for the most courageous solution to a difficult sales problem was presented to Amway and C-E Communications, Digital Solutions Group, Warren, Mich., for creating a countdown Web site to introduce Quixtar, Amway's

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