Once upon a time, an ad was about a company’s unique selling position. But people can now accept more complex brands, and I thought we might be able to build a deeper relationship if we built on multiple fronts." Mike Hughes, president and creative director, The Martin Agency
Complexity used to be the signature of bad advertising. Now, it’s a competitive opportunity.
Hughes has run several campaigns running for GEICO at the same time:
1) The GEICO gecko.
(Too well known to need detailing.)
2) The "Good News" campaign.
(This is the campaign that features a faux news report and the punch line "But the good news is, I just saved a lot of money on my insurance.")
(Tischler describes them as "a clutch of metrosexual cavemen, having somehow eluded extinction while developing a taste for racquet sports, plasma TVs, and ‘duck with mango salsa.’")
(Customer endorsements with interpretations by celebrity pitchmen, Little Richard, Burt Bacharach, and Peter Graves.)
This is noisy advertising. There is no internal logic here, no secret strategy that makes all these campaigns go together. In fact, to grasp this work, we have to "shift frame" entirely, by which I mean, we have to give up the assumptions and the meanings cultivated by the last campaign to make sense of the present one.
This means the brand is now filling up with a certain internal inconsistency. And in the old days, this would have been grounds for shooting the creative director, and moving the account. What we need is a little research. It would be very interesting to see whether and how these campaigns interact with one another. It is almost as if The Martin Agency has undertaken a "transmedia" strategy within a single medium.
But I think it’s fair to say that consumers are amused and engaged by this approach. Our simplest guess might may that there are many messages for a rich and complicated marketplace. I mean, everyone buys car insurance, and these days "everyone" is a very diverse group. Perhaps this is a grab-bag approach. There are lots of creative strategies here, and maybe the idea is that GEICO has something for everyone.
On the other hand, we are learning, or should be learning, to segment each consumer as we once segmented the marketplace. We know that every consumer contains quite a lot of diversity, of noise, within. Perhaps consumers find in this GEICO advertising something that speaks to the world of complexity within themselves.
But there is a last point to make here: that GEICO complexity comes in part from the internal complexity of The Martin Agency. Mike Hughes decided some years ago to create multiple creative teams and to "turn them loose to tell multiple, distinct narratives designed to highlight various aspects of the brand." As Tischler puts it, Hughs has transformed Martin "into a confederation of mini agencies, rather than a single midsize one."
That makes three: the brand, the consumer and the agency, all with the same structural property. All are complex where once they were simple. All are noisy where once they were quiet. All are cloudy were once they were clear blue. Something is happening, and we’re not sure what it is.
Jenkins. Henry. 2007. Transmedia Storetelling 101. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. March 22, 2007. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2004. Complexity on TV. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. September 15, 2004. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2007. Gaga Over Geico. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. March 08, 2007. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2007. Noise. This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. March 06, 2007. here.
Tischler, Linda. 2007. Clan of the Caveman. Fast Company.com. Issue 116, June, p. 104. here.