US' most creative partnerships: Geico & The Martin Agency

For more than 20 years, Geico has been saying: "Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance." The message has become so well known that the insurance company turned its pitch into a punchline in its own ads.

It launched its "Did you know" ad series in 2013 after identifying a 93% recall of the "15%" positioning. The ads start with a person reciting the line, prompting a dismissive "Everyone knows that" response. This leads the first person to retort with a (usually invented) "fact" of their own.  

"We’re the only ones who can question our own tagline," says Wade Alger, senior vice-president and group creative director at The Martin Agency, which won the account in 1994. 

It’s a privileged position for a brand that has been able to saturate the market with a hefty media budget and a steadfast commitment to its formula for success: humour with an unwavering strategy and easily repeatable story structure. 

"The media budget (some years, up to $1bn) gives the freedom, and need, to run several narratives at once"

"We describe our approach as ‘relentlessly consistent’," says Ted Ward, vice-president of marketing at Geico. More than two decades of the memorable ads have moved it from eighth to number two in its category. 

"The 15/15 promise has been our anchor," says Steve Bassett, senior vice-president and group creative
director at The Martin Agency. The media budget (some years, up to $1bn) gives the freedom, and need, to run several narratives at once. 

The brand’s cast of characters has included an affable animated gecko (the solution to a 1999 actors’ strike), the "Hump Day" camel and even celebrities such as Little Richard and Joan Rivers, cast to comically translate real customers’ testimonials. "Geico advertising has always been a little self-aware," Bassett says. 

The brand’s "Unskippable" take on pre-roll ads was one of the most-awarded campaigns of 2015. Geico’s message appears in the first five seconds, before the "skip ad" prompt, then characters freeze as the action continues around them. "You can’t skip this Geico ad because it’s already over," the voiceover says. The ad that won the Grand Prix in Film at Cannes "freezes" a family at dinner – except a dog, which jumps up and gobbles their food.

"It’s really understanding how people view advertising," Bassett says. "People aren’t waiting or dying to see the next Geico ad, but it’s become one of the most shareable brands."

The comedy is different in each ad series, but, Alger says, "It can’t be weird for weird’s sake." 

"Geico has permission to seamlessly split into a new campaign as long as it’s anchored by 15/15 and the humour’s interesting," Bassett explains. "[It’s] not really changing direction, just taking the same information and re-presenting in a fresh way that is going to surprise and hopefully get you talking."

The strategy has worked well: Geico has been the fastest-growing insurance company in the US for more than ten years. 

Ted Ward 

Vice-president, marketing, Geico

The people [at] both The Martin Agency and here at Geico are in it for the long haul. I’ve been at Geico 32 years. I hired them [more than] 22 years ago. And over those years, most of the critical pieces and parts have stayed in place. The current head of the agency, Matt Williams, was our very first account executive. One of the key people on my side who works with the Martin folks has been with Geico 32 years. So, there’s consistency in both people and approach. 

Wade Alger

Senior vice-president and group creative director, The Martin Agency 

It really is a partnership. Everyone is valued and their opinions count. That’s what makes the work better. No one has a giant ego in the room, everyone can be very humbled and it really is like a giant round table where we’re all equals. Ted will, obviously, make the final decision, but when you walk into a room with that sort of mentality or that amount of confidence in your partner, it really helps the work get better.

Steve Bassett

Senior vice-president and group creative director, The Martin Agency 

There’s not a revolving door as far as the CMO goes, which is great, and the people above him have been there since the beginning. I’ve been on shoots with clients where there’s a feeling of fear or "them versus us"; on a Geico shoot there is no fear. We’re all in it to make the best spot we can. A lot of the good edits and ideas come from the client. Everybody knows where the "North Star" is. A lot of that has to do with Ted. I can’t give the Geico team enough credit.

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