Ted Ward, Geico

The world of Ted Ward is inhabited by cavemen, talking lizards and normal-sized people living in homes with four-foot ceilings. But that’s nothing unusual for Ward, who, at 56, is the master of a Geico brand machine that consistently cranks out humor to sell a decidedly dull product.

As vp-marketing at Geico, Ward, the son of a home builder, refuses to tell anyone they are “in good hands” or “like a good neighbor” to sell his service. He doesn’t have to. With a built-in, smart-ass grin, the stout, broad-shouldered New Jersey-ite has proven he can deliver 40,000 new customers a week to Geico.

His salt-and-pepper hair and business casual attire give his amiable demeanor a neighborly tweak. Ward’s favorite comedian is Steve Martin, and the ringtone on his cell phone is the 2001 song “Remind Me,” a tune by Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp that is the background to the caveman airport spot. Like so many marketers, Ward turns to his family to gauge the impact of his work.

“My [teenage] sons are more cave guys than lizards,” Ward said. “I knew we had a reasonable effort when they would wear cavemen T-shirts. My wife was a lizard first; now she’s going to the cavemen.”

Some odd conversation, to say the least. But Ward dismisses the humor factor when he busts down what has been his best idea. “Fifteen minutes could save you 15%,” Ward recites on cue when asked. “It’s our mantra. And marrying that up with quirky and original humor makes the very benign line work.”

His top attribute at Geico?

“One of the advantages I brought was consistency,” Ward said. “There is nothing less productive than shopping for an agency, and I have done it once [in 23 years]. Our competition juggles shops, and it hurts them. And I hope they continue to do it.”

Ward’s proclamation is provincial compared to his reputation as a freewheeling guy who embraces challenges not just for profit, but for the fun of it.

“Ted is the guy most likely to attempt to fly around the world and barely make it because he loaded an extra case of champagne on the plane,” mused Brad Armstrong, a former fratmate at the University of Virginia who happens to be evp and partner at The Martin Agency, Geico’s lead shop since 1994.

Geico has dodged the “gag and tag” label by keeping its product front and center, despite the show-stealing purveyors of its service.

“This is not a case where the theater has overpowered the brand name,” said Charles Rosen, principal at the consultancy Amalgamated, New York. “Geico is top of mind for anyone looking for car insurance.”

Part of Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway empire, Geico has achieved solid financial growth of late. The company recorded revenues of $11 billion during the fiscal year ended December 2006, an increase of 9.4% over 2005, per Datamonitor, New York. Geico sells homeowner’s, flood and a bevy of other insurance coverage, but it’s the auto end of the business that puts Geico on the map. And while it is by no means the biggest player in its crowded category (No. 1 State Farm had $60.5 billion in revenues in 2006), Geico’s market share gain of 13% has outranked all competitors in the past four years, per financial service rating firm A. M. Best, Brunswick, N.J. Geico’s local market share captures have also been prolific. It is now No. 1, for example, in New York State and Washington.

That’s not all. J.D. Power’s National Auto Insurance study, released in August, found Geico ranked fourth in overall customer satisfaction, with consumers praising its prices and speed of payment.