GEICO Insurance is legendary for its creative television spots, conceived by The Martin Agency (Richmond, Seattle, New York). But at a recent StudioNorth client event (SNth Degree) a diverse cross section of  marketing professionals representing more than 30 significant brands questioned whether GEICO’s inconsistent creative approaches violate branding best practices by fragmenting brand perception. What’s the logic behind it?

Sybil on steroids?

With concepts and characters as diverse as a gecko, cavemen, a Rod Serling (or Jack Webb?) knock-off, and stacks of money with googly eyes, GEICO has managed to gain recognition as one of the most creative advertisers on the airwaves. The branding elite call these different characters “energizers.” No matter what you call them, you could fill a room with the multiple personalities employed by the GEICO brand. If GEICO were a person, would you trust that person to be consistent? So how does all this disparate creative come together to support a single brand?

My hypothesis

Prior to researching the campaign(s), I thought the approach was simply about targeting creative to appeal to diverse audiences:

  • Cavemen for 18-24 males with questionable driving records
  • “Rod Serling” for doubters
  • The gecko for “the rest of us poor oppressed slobs who need simple, inexpensive insurance and can’t beat Mr. Big Pants insurance companies at their game.

And my hypothesis of what holds the brand together is the offer at the end of each spot, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”

The agency’s rationale

But in a 2007 interview, Martin President and Creative Director Mike Hughes told Fast Company “People can now accept more complex brands with multiple, distinct narratives highlighting various aspects of the brand.” The Martin Agency gave multiple creative teams different assignments, with instructions “to tell multiple, distinct narratives that highlight various aspects of the brand.” The strategy: to build deeper relationships on multiple fronts.

The Martin Agency believes it has found a better way to do branding, perhaps even a new media strategy altogether. The ad shop has since begun rolling out multipronged strategies for a variety of clients including UPS and Wal-Mart.

How efficient is this strategy? Is being fragmented in a fragmented world the right thing for results? The success could simply be a matter of media tonnage…a reported $580 million per year in media behind these whacky spots! I’d be curious to see an A/B split test on this commercial collage against a more consistent approach.

What do you think? A gratuitous creative exercise or a new strategy for more efficient, real results?