Ad Report Card: Geico’s Gags

A recent “Ad Report Card” installment on readers’ most-loved and most-hated ads brought a bunch of responses from other readers who wanted their opinions known. The ads of Geico, the insurer, came up fairly often, mostly favorably. (E, my girlfriend, has also been telling me for a while that Geico’s ads are funny.) At the time I wasn’t terribly familiar with Geico’s ads, but lately I seem to see them constantly. They take several forms, but the common theme, interestingly enough, is the cheap gag: Each spot is an audiovisual one-liner lasting just 15 seconds. Some can be viewed, using QuickTime, at For instance, a couple of readers specifically mentioned this commercial, featuring a talking duck. Along similar lines is one with a laughing dog. Lately I’ve seen several featuring the work of cartoonist Bill Plympton, two of which can be seen, back-to-back, here. (Click here for Plympton’s Web site.) At least one reader voiced his disgust with a commercial involving unwanted mayonnaise. To watch these ads is to wonder whether Geico wants to be thought of as the Catskills comic of insurance companies–and whether this a good thing.

The Ads: There’s very little to these spots beyond a quick setup and punch line, so I’m going to have to give away all the jokes. And you’ll have to supply your own rim shot. The talking duck strolls out and says, “Geico Direct could save you hundreds of dollars on car insurance. Result?” He briefly lifts his wing to obscure his bill, then reveals that it has shrunk. In a high-pitched voice he says: “Smaller bill.” In the other intelligent-animal segment, a terrier looks over Master’s shoulder at his car-insurance statement, then rolls around in the floor laughing. “Still paying too much for car insurance?” asks the announcer?

In each of the Plympton ads, the announcer says: “You can still save money on car insurance, even if you’ve made a few … mistakes.” In one, a little man unties a string that releases a giant weight, which crushes him. In the other, he presses a button next to a cannon, thus sending a cannonball directly into his face. (I’ve seen some other, similar Plympton spots lately. If you’re not familiar with his other, non-ad work, here’s his Web site.)

And in the mayonnaise ad, a guy in a diner points out to his waitress that he didn’t want mayonnaise on his sandwich. The waitress–who perhaps had recently seen Five Easy Pieces, in which Jack Nicholson’s character famously advises his server to “hold the chicken” in his chicken sandwich, between her knees–grabs the top slice of bread, scrapes the offending condiment all over the edge of the table, and mashes it back onto his sandwich. “You don’t have to sacrifice service to save money,” the announcer says, and ends it with the same tag that ends all these spots: “Geico. A 15-minute call could save you 15 percent or more.” A phone number is shown.

The Apparent Thinking Behind Them: In a sense, this is pretty old-school stuff: Get attention with an outrageous laugh line, then slap your phone number up there while the viewer is still chuckling, and, presumably, engaged. It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.

Does It Work? I think it mostly does. Whether you go in for this kind of humor is a matter of taste, but a lot of people do (judging by the e-mail I got about the commercials anyway). On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wasn’t already mulling over car insurance at least a little bit would call the Geico phone number. As a practical matter, it seems smart to include in the quickie tagline that, like the ads themselves, the call could not only save you money but won’t take long. My own car insurance is due for renewal in a few months, and I imagine that I’ll at least give Geico a shot. In light of that, I’ll give these ads a B+.