The Unlikely Titan Of Advertising

Geico gecko commercial
Geico gecko commercial

Laughing at a TV commercial for car insurance was once inconceivable, but now millions of Americans are doing just that thanks to a talking lizard, a group of disgruntled Neanderthal Cavemen, and fading celebrities such as Little Richard.

In his commercial, singer Little Richard sits next to a woman who hit a deer on Thanksgiving night.

"I called GEICO expecting a recording but someone was there to help me," she said on the commercial.

"Help me! Somebody help me!" Little Richard screamed next to her.

"GEICO got my claim in the works right away and I was able to enjoy my Thanksgiving," she said.

"Mashed potatoes! Gravy! And cranberry sauce! Whoooo, hoooo!" Little Richard wailed.

As Sunday Morning correspondent Martha Teichner explains, the three commercials for car insurance company GEICO have become a part of American pop culture.

These ads are not the product of a fancy Madison Avenue or Los Angeles ad agency, but are all the creation of the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., which prides itself on being the anti-Madison Avenue agency. In fact, one company president used to have a sign on the door saying:" To hell with New York."

"People do not come to Richmond, Va. For the restaurants," said Mike Hughes, president and creative director of the Martin Agency. "We have to give advertisers a reason to come to Richmond, Va. and if it's not the creative, we're nothing."

Only about 380 people work at the Martin Agency, but the company is having a gigantic impact on advertising.

"We are doing things that are likeable and approachable," Hughes said.

Hughes said the agency came up with the idea of a talking gecko because through their research, they learned that people had trouble remembering the name GEICO, which stands for the Government Employees Insurance Corporation. The agency's creative people thought GEICO sounded like gecko and went from there. It has worked. GEICO's revenue is soaring.

"One of the art directors, I think, he said, 'You know what if we put a character like, I don't know, something like a gecko or something,'" said Steve Bassett who is in charge of the GEICO account

In 1999, the gecko made what was supposed to be his one and only television appearance, except that people liked him, and he sold insurance. Since then, he's evolved gone is his posh British accent, he's now a working class cockney.

We purposefully wanted to do more of sort of everyman," Bassett said. "We shortened, shortened his torso here and just the hint of shoulders that he could shrug, some eyelids here and things like that."

Women tend to like the gecko, whose message is all about name recognition while young men seem to prefer the caveman.

"The caveman started with a really simple creative brief is easy to use," he said.