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Geico Cavemen: Just Let Them Be Neanderthals.

Posted by: David Kiley on August 18, 2008

I’m trying to figure out why there is an effort to leverage the Geico cavemen into something besides ad characters.

Last year, there was an attempt to put the inferiority-complex laden Neanderthals into a TV series. It bombed. Indeed, it was unwatchable. Now, the cavemen will be integrated into ESPN’s media properties in roles as fantasy-football salesmen, as well as stars of a series of vignettes promoting the network’s flagship “SportsCenter” program.

According the Ad Age article on the deal: [“ESPN is basically using an advertiser’s icon to drive viewers to its shows,” said Bill Koenigsberg, CEO of Horizon Media, Geico’s longtime media agency, which crafted the deal. “It’s very unusual, but for these two brands we think it’s a perfect fit.”]

We’ll see. The Geico cavemen have been one very successful leg in Geico’s advertising stool.

What fascinates me about the Geico campaign is that the cavemen, as memorable as they are, are only part of the effort. The other part of the campaign [all done by Richmond Va.’s Martin Agency] are the ads in which a celebrity appears with a real life Geico customer. Like this ad:

When I think of the most memorable ad icons—The Marlboro Man, Mr. Whipple, Charlie Tuna, Mr. Clean—I have no memory of the agency or the client saying: “Wow, this is too valuable a property to just waste on one brand!” I can actually for a minute imagine that someone would have had the idea of turning Charlie Tuna into a Saturday morning cartoon for kids. Let’s face it, Charlie could have been a character in “Finding Nemo.”

Memo to Geico, Martin and Horizon: The cavemen are a great and memorable ad property for the company and brand. But sometimes a duck is just a duck. Just let the cavemen be the cavemen.

Reader Comments


August 18, 2008 12:29 PM

Didn't Rocky & Bullwinkle first hawk Cheerios before moving on to their own distinctive fame and fortune?

From Kiley: What happened was that Rocky & Bullwinkle began as an independent show. Early on, General Mills sisgned on as a sponsor, and even held he syndicataion rights. I'm sure I recall the characters being used to flog Cheerios during ad breaks.


August 20, 2008 12:27 PM

You can only use characters for extended commercial purposes like ESPN is trying to do only if they're the undisputed company mascots (like the Gecko) and only if the advertiser is a major sponsor.

I understand that the cavemen are just a side gag to the Gecko and not official company mascots. So the whole point of trying to have them hawk stuff they hawk part-time on a program where the last thing people are thinking of is car insurance is... what again?


August 21, 2008 8:08 AM

I agree about overexposing the cavemen. Martin's brilliant, however, by running multiple campaigns, each targeting a different buyer. The cavemen resonate with men, the celeb ads hit with older viewers, and the Gecko ads seem to hit strongly with women. If you've got the coin to run three concurrent campaigns, I highly recommend it.


August 22, 2008 10:01 PM

GEICO is the fastest growing auto insurance company in the U.S. I think that the Martin agency has something to do with that.

From Kiley: I agree. I love the ads and think the whole campaign is brilliant. I just don't think the characters are effective outside the Geico universe.

Kim Cobb

August 28, 2008 10:51 AM

I don't know about overexposure, but Geico definitely got the science right: Neanderthals weren't stupid. Southern Methodist University graduate student Metin Eren has produced new research ( on the tool making skills of our prehistoric cousins that debunks that old theory. Maybe it's time to send the Geico Neanderthals to college.

Kim Cobb
SMU News and Communications

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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