Geico Spills Secret to Success at ANA Conference

Having Fun Helps Marketer Hit Its Stride

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- In an industry many leading creatives have exited of late citing a lack of fun, Geico appears to stand as a stark contrast, running as many as five simultaneous campaigns and giving longtime ad shop Martin Agency considerable leeway on each.

Ted Ward
Ted Ward
Geico Chief Marketing Officer Ted Ward and Martin CEO John Adams gave away several elements of the secret sauce of the effort that has quintupled Geico's market share in car insurance over the past 16 years in an appearance at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing Conference today.

Among them, while not among the planned bullet points, are the very deep pockets of billionaire Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway rescued the insurer from near bankruptcy in 1975 through acquisition. In words that would warm the hearts of most marketers and agency executives at the outset of Geico's 16 years of explosive growth, Mr. Ward said Mr. Buffett told him: "Don't let money stand in your way."

Geico also hasn't let convention stand in its way, running multiple campaigns featuring the likes of the trademark Gecko, cavemen, "the Rod Serling guy," old rock stars, stacks of money with eyes and abusive psychoanalysts simultaneously. Each, Mr. Ward said, does address a real strategic purpose either reinforcing a savings or ease-of-use message.

Other factors include a long-term and intensely personal relationship between Geico marketers and people from Martin, Mr. Ward and Mr. Adams said.

The overriding strategy was to move Geico from the profitable-but-small niche of low-risk government employees to a broader, riskier but ultimately more lucrative audience, Mr. Ward said. All those campaigns have increased Geico's market share from 2% to 10% and, despite heavy spending, led to profits 15 of the past 16 years.

It's also led to much-talked-about creative that Teen Research Unlimited data show ranks as the most recalled advertising among teens and women in their 20s and behind only Old Spice among men in their 20s, Mr. Ward said.

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