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Published:March 17th, 2006 12:51 EST
Sell-- I Mean Tell Me A Story

Sell-- I Mean Tell Me A Story

By Sean Stubblefield

These days, television commercials-as-entertainment is nothing new. That mechanism has long been a popular feature of the Superbowl, often and commonly considered a highlight of the games, even independent of them.
And Geico Car Insurance has a history of creating entertaining commercials.
Their Speed Racer commercial is hilarious, and one of my favorite commercials ever.

In one of a series of recent Geico commercials, the company’s famous Gecko representative explains-- breaking the fourth wall and letting the audience in on a clever little “secret”-- that his commercials are presented as entertainment, designed to distract the viewer from the fact they are actually watching a commercial. What seems like entertainment, he reveals, is really a commercial. Of course, we are fully aware that it’s a commercial, but this confession makes an interesting point, and functions as a powerful advertising device.

Ironically contradictory and counter-intuitive— knowingly reminding us that we are indeed watching a commercial if we’re not supposed to notice, but very effective; bringing the audience into the commercial to become part of the Gecko’s story.

Additionally, it serves to further suggest that we can trust him, and, by extension, trust Geico. However, the most significant aspect at play here is that a sort of episodic story is being told through these commercials, with a recurring principal character. These commercials work well both as a continuing series and as stand alone episodes.

The computer generated Gecko is charming, sophisticated, passionate… and on a mission to spread the word about Geico… hoping to prevent that information from being “a stray little fact, a wee orphan of truth, wandering the streets, looking for a home in someone’s ear”. 

We can believe that he genuinely believes in the value of what he’s selling, and sincerely wants to help others by informing them about it. He’s really conducting a public service, in his mind. He is the consummate salesman, but without coming across as a salesman. He does not really seem to be selling us anything, but merely having a friendly chat with comrades.

And more than that, this Gecko is convincing and likeable as a character; the portrayal exhibits a “real”ness, a believability of performance, in such a way that one wonders if he’s acting.

I love these commercials. In no small part because I love the Gecko. Yet as endearing and amusing as the lizard may be, I don’t use Geico, which may indicate these commercials have a more persuasive impact as entertainment than as advertisement.

And so what? A commercial’s primary objective should be to inform, not brainwash, and Geico’s Gecko definitely succeeds there, entertaining us in the process as a pleasant bonus. And if we learned anything from those old 1980s G.I. Joe cartoons, “knowing is half the battle.” Thanks to the diligent efforts of the Gecko, now we know about Geico.

Deliberately or accidentally, I think Geico has discovered and brilliantly executed an excellent application of the commercials-as-entertainment concept with their charismatically British accented Gecko: fictional narrative commercials.
We’re familiar with product placements within television shows, both subtle and obvious… but television shows inside product placements?
An intriguing reversal. One I’d like to see utilized more frequently by more advertisers. Mini-movies. Could be huge.