GEICO, or Government Employee Insurance Company, was founded in 1936 as an insurance provider for government employees and military personnel. In more recent decades, it began to spread its client base to the public; since 1979, GEICO has been growing as a popular insurance company for all manner of drivers. Unlike some insurance companies that heavily rely on insurance agents to sell the product, GEICO is a direct sales company. There are some GEICO agents across the country, but most of GEICO’s budget goes toward advertisements rather than paying agents and other support staff.

GEICO Advertising

In the 1990s, GEICO was still a relatively unknown company. A sudden explosion of advertisements brought them to the forefront of American pop culture, however, and the company has swiftly gained in popularity. GEICO spends more money on advertising than any other car insurance company, with an advertising budget surpassing that of even Coca-Cola. Since then, the company has expanded dramatically and has extremely strong brand recognition.

GEICO advertisements are well-known for their humor. The pervasive advertising campaign has featured numerous different mascots and catchphrases, with multiple different ads being aired concurrently across the country. Some of the more recognizable GEICO advertisements have included the GEICO cavemen and the gecko.

The GEICO Gecko

The GEICO gecko become the mascot for the company as a wordplay of the similarity between the two words. A gecko is a type of lizard; the specific gecko used in the advertisements is a CGI rendering of a day gecko. The first GEICO gecko commercial was aired in 1999, and featured a harried gecko begging customers not to confuse him with GEICO and to stop calling him.

This initial commercial featured the voice acting of comedian Kelsey Grammer, known elsewhere for his role in Frasier and later as Beast in the X-Men films. Later on, the “wrong number” commercials featured the voice of Dave Kelly, a British radio personality from Northampton. At this point, the GEICO gecko began speaking with a strong British accent than was evident in the earliest commercials.

The reason for the change in accent change was due to a Screen Actors Guild strike going on at the time that GEICO was filming its commercials. The animation had been completed, but the company was unable to use American actors to complete the advertisement. In order to get around the SAG strike, the company approached Dave Kelly; soon after, the British accent became an identifying feature of the gecko’s personality and has remained a fixture of the character ever since.

Later GEICO commercials furthered the story of the GEICO gecko. Apparently deciding that disambiguation from the company was impossible, the gecko starts working for the company as a spokesperson. At this point, the gecko became voiced by Jake Wood, a British actor best known for his work on the show East Enders. For awhile, the gecko had a Cockney accent; this has been softened to a more working-class British accent recently. Currently Jake Wood still voices the gecko.

Aside from the changes in voice acting, the portrayal of the gecko has also changed over the past decade. In the earliest commercials, the gecko is much more lizard-like: he clings to objects with all four feet and licks his eye the way real geckos do. Over time, the design became much more anthropomorphic, with the gecko walking on two legs and maintaining much more human-like expressions.

Improvements to CGI animation technology also played a part in the evolution of the GEICO gecko. Recent commercials feature a brighter and more real-looking gecko, whereas the earliest commercials were more obviously animated. The current gecko interacts seamlessly with live-action actors and sets.

Response from Other Insurance Companies

As a pop culture icon, GEICO is well-known for entertaining commercials, and has strong brand recognition because of it. While GEICO is currently the third largest insurance company, it is the highest-ranked in terms of advertising and popular opinion.

In many respects, GEICO set the bar for car insurance advertisements. Prior to the GEICO gecko, insurance did not advertise heavily on television; the commercials that did air were usually fairly straightforward and dealt with the topic of car insurance directly. In recent years, insurance advertising has become an extremely competitive market, with more companies spending more money on their advertising budget.

Other insurance companies have attempted to compete with GEICO’s humorous advertisements and memorable mascots by introducing mascots of their own. Progressive, for example, has the perky salesperson Flo; Allstate has the suit-wearing trouble-maker Mayhem; and State Farm has the jingle-summoned agents. While these commercials have received lots of interest from viewers, no insurance company has as wide a variety of insurance commercials running at any one time.

While funny commercials and cute anthropomorphic mascots will not appeal to every demographic, GEICO has certainly captured public attention. The tremendous growth in the company in the past decade has shown the power of advertising in boosting direct sales. As more people begin to find car insurance online, the direct sale market will continue to grow in popularity, causing auto insurance to become increasingly competitive.