Behind Geico’s nostalgia play: fans vote for their favorite campaign
Those who have followed insurance provider Geico’s many campaigns over the past two-plus decades have a favorite or even favorites. But choosing the greatest Geico ad of all time might be more difficult. That’s why Geico and its creative agency, the Martin Agency, have decided to let viewers settle the matter once and for all.
‘The Best of Geico’ is a collection of commercials spanning 25 years, curated down to the top 10 ads. These greatest hits are re-airing on TV and online currently, while America gets to vote on their favorite. Fans can visit the campaign’s webpage to view popular ads from the Caveman, the Gecko, the Hump Day camel, and Maxwell the Pig. The team even made a retro-cheesy promotional ad to get the word out about the campaign and the voting.
When someone votes, through 5 February, they will be entered for a chance to appear in an upcoming Geico commercial. It’s certainly a first for the insurance category.
The Drum talked with the Martin Agency about what went into making the ads, why they hold up so well, and how the campaigns manage to stay fresh year after year.
“We’ve had the account since 1994, so it’s been 25 years this year,” said Steve Bassett, the Martin Agency’s senior vice president, group creative director. “When you look at the volume of the work, and consistency of the work over time, and you go on the Geico YouTube page, people are making their own best-ofs already, in a way. So, it just felt like, starting with 2019, why don’t we do a best of?”
Bassett and vice presidents/creative directors Justin Harris and Neel Williams worked with the client to get a list of roughly 20 spots. They wanted them to represent a span from the late 1990s to up to five years ago, to give a historical perspective. From there, they cut it down to 10.
“It’s hard to imagine another advertiser, where the product has been so consistent, the strategy has been so consistent, and the client-agency partnership has been so consistent for so long. It’s hard to imagine another client or agency that could do this,” said Basset.
“There’s a lot of collaboration with our clients on this, to try to get to a top 10 that was mutually agreed upon,” added Williams. “There were also some logistical things that were factored in there, like being able to get all of the talent negotiated. We cast a little bit wider net — I think there were some rules that we put in place for ourselves for some of these spots. Not having two from the same campaign, for maximum diversity.”
Keeping it fresh for 25 years
When the Martin Agency got the Geico business in 1994, the strategy was basically the tagline: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
Said Bassett of the longterm relationship: “It’s a savings message. It’s also an awareness play. They were a challenger brand at the time so we decided to use humor instead of what was normally used in the category at the time, which was more fear tactics. So, you have humor, you have this consistent tagline and you have enough media power to run multiple campaigns, because humor works differently on different people. Some people love the gecko, some people don’t. We wanted to make sure that people would find something for them in the work.
“As we went over the years and developed new campaigns, obviously tastes change, humor changes, topics change. Having people that have both worked on the account for a while, at least five or 10 years, and bringing new people in to start becoming familiar with the brand, they bring their own perspective to the table, especially when it comes to social media. It’s been a wonderful process to see. I’m really humbled by the talent that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with on Geico,” he added.
“I think a key ingredient of the consistency and the quality of the work is the client relationship. Just having great clients and building that trust, one successful spot and campaign at a time over the course of 25 years, is something that’s really unique and fun,” Williams said.
A ‘greatest hits’ promo goes retro
The promo for ‘The Best of Geico’ campaign is a detailed tribute to those cheesy greatest hits album promos and infomercials of the 1970s and '80s. In it, a couple watches TV in their '80s-era, fern-filled living room; he in a blazer and turtleneck, she in a Scandinavian-meets-Native American sweater and mom jeans. She asks him if he’s watching the ‘Best of Geico’ collection, as he holds up a (fake) box with neon stripes. He then explains that Geico will be re-airing its greatest hits.
There are subtitles below explaining that the collection is not for sale. “Seriously, you can’t buy these. They’re a metaphor.”
The two then explain that people can vote for their favorites, as clips of the camel, caveman, and high-fiving squirrels roll by, with a title scroll over them. It’s a perfect K-Tel moment for those who remember those times.
It ends with retro-1980s graphics explaining how people can vote and enter the contest.
Making the 90-second promo alone involved lots of research and planning to get the feel just right.
“The greatest hits as a concept seemed like a very natural fit. The deeper we went, doing some research, we got to really appreciate the nuances of the genre, from the '70s all the way into the '90s. I think we could write a solid thesis on it now,” quipped Williams. “Having watched so much of the genre heading into it, we had a good idea of what we were trying to do, which was strike a balance between cheese and sincerity.”
“It’s cheesy for sure but it has to be just the right amount of cheese…just the right flavor,” added Harris. “In terms of the look, the window was more focused. We didn’t want to go too retro with it and get into the Farah Fawcett wings hairstyle thing. More like late '80s, maybe early '90s. We put together some mood boards, watched a lot of old shows to try and dial that in. And, of course, worked with the director, Steve Miller, who we’ve worked with a lot in the past.”
Kidded Williams: “We talked about the couple – it’s as though they visited Santa Fe once in 1987 and decided to redecorate their entire living room with items that they purchased there.”
So far, Geico seems happy with the results, as millions have viewed the old commercials online and on air, and plenty of people have entered the contest. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the prize is being cast in a Geico commercial.
“From a conceptual standpoint, we wanted to give some incentive for voting…a carrot to dangle out there. As far as what that prize should be, it felt very fitting and very meta that in a contest about Geico ads, the prize would be to be in a future Geico ad,” said Williams.
Getting the rights to 25 years worth of commercials proved difficult – the Martin Agency said it was the largest renegotiation of talent in agency history. But the results seem to be paying off in both engagement and nostalgia.
“Whether you see some high-fiving squirrels, or hump day, the Caveman going down the walkway at the airport, they’re fun to watch again,” Bassett said, "and I think — except maybe for Collect Call — they’re still relevant.”