How Big Data Brought Us the GEICO Gecko

Back in October (when this PRNewser writer dressed as Flo for Halloween), we discussed the popularity of brand mascots like Progressive‘s Flo, Allstate‘s Mayhem and the GEICO Gecko — and what it means for a company when a character created solely for the purpose of selling a product becomes something of a pop culture icon.

Relevant research at the time indicated that, while the public’s love for these quirky insurance pushers undoubtedly helped bring some personality to an otherwise drab product, it didn’t necessarily always correlate with sales.

Now, thanks to a revealing interview in AdAge, we’ve learned that there may be a more direct correlation between the Gecko and his company’s sales. The spokes-lizard was never intended to be the longstanding fixture he has become. But, as GEICO CMO Ted Ward explains in the interview, the ever-improving marketing tool known as data analytics made it clear that The Gecko was making an impact:

“The green scaly spokes-character…was actually born in a petri dish of data. The Gecko was ‘hatched’ with absolutely no research or even the intention of producing a long-running, iconic campaign. The fact is we analyzed results from running the first set of Gecko TV spots and liked the bump in business volume…I’m happy to report he is still one of the best-liked icons in advertising today.”

For the past ten years, GEICO has relied on database-marketing consultancy firm Merkle to run its marketing database, handle its direct mail and print-campaign analytics, and manage its targeted digital display ads. To Ward, the value of such analytical research is unquestionable — and while technology has changed some aspects of his work, the fundamentals are still the same:

“The cost to store and process data has come down so substantially that it is now possible to “crunch” a myriad of internal and external data elements through complex algorithms to market to customers and prospective customers in more personalized, timely and meaningful ways.”

You may be wondering, “but what about social media and SEO marketing? Aren’t those the new hot-button marketing trends?” We found Ward’s insight into this subject particularly interesting. While he made it clear that such things have great value and should not be minimized, he touted the merits of more quantifiable, old-fashioned research, saying:

“The difference is these programs are more quantifiable. There is a reason it is called social media and not business media. There is much less control over the inputs and outputs, and the metrics of success are not as closely tied to direct business results.”

In short, SEO and social media marketing will not replace traditional research. This reminds us of the old adage “make new friends, but keep the old”, especially since the “old” is ever-improving thanks to advances in technology. If it keeps the Gecko in the limelight, we’re all for it.