Even advertisers understand that we live in a pet crazy society. Ever noticed how many animals are used in brand marketing? That’s because we love them and we can relate to them…even reptiles. Case and point, the Geico gecko. In 2005 he was voted America’s top advertising icon.
A lizard hawking car insurance? Who would have figured he would become a beloved character? Still, he shrugs his shoulders, licks his eyeball, bears his soul in his cute English accent and we’re hooked. Geckos are rather charming in real life as well. They actually can moisten their eyes with their tongues. They have suede-like skin and come in 800 species of various sizes and glorious colors. They also make a large variety of pleasant chirping noises but don’t expect them to talk to you about car insurance. That’s a creation of the Martin Agency, an advertising company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia.
The idea of the gecko came from a brainstorming session where the team was asking, “What is Geico?” The real answer is that the name is an acronym for “Government Employees Insurance Co.” –but that sounds a lot like gecko. An idea was born, a gecko politely asking that people please stop calling him.
Now the world’s most famous reptile has replaced the Taco Bell Chihuahua in popularity. Remember the commercial that pitted the Chihuahua against the gecko in a spokes-animal audition? He’s so beloved that Geico is working hard to protect his good name. They are suing the Al Boenker Insurance Agency Inc. for appropriating Geico’s “famous and distinctive talking gecko” for their own advertising campaign. The problem is that the commercials show someone in a gecko suit introducing himself as “the gecko” in a British accent and behaving like an imbecilic, bumbling creature. No one will stand for this sort of gecko abuse!
We love our advertising animals! In a national survey, the most popular animals were cat, turtle, elephant, eagle, salmon, trout, butterfly, robin, swan, horse and dog. However, it doesn’t have to be the most popular animals to tickle our fancy. They just need to be self aware. “It just seems that self-awareness helps lower people’s barriers to your message,” says Steve Bassett at the Martin Agency. Today’s characters need to have a story and a conflict in order to tug at our heart-strings. Take another beloved brand for example, the Aflac duck.
That poor Aflac duck has been trying to get everyone to listen to him since 2000. We completely sympathize with the feathered cutie because we all know what it’s like to have no one listening to us. The duck still can’t seem to get people to listen to him about insurance in his commercials, but he has definitely won an audience. In 2001 he exported to Japan and was embraced by his audience there. In 2004 he won as America’s Favorite Advertising Icon. Although he was beaten by a lizard, he’s promising a come-back this year as a superhero in his January release commercials.
For now, though, the gecko reigns supreme. In real life, geckos can live as long as thirty years. Perhaps our little green charmer will manage the same, staying in the biz for as long as say that Trix rabbit or Tony the Tiger. Speaking of, what is that gecko’s name, anyway? I guess we’re going to have to wait to find out. The Martin Agency feels that the Geico gecko should keep a little mystery about him. So for now, he remains nameless.