Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pigs, Birds and GEICO

Have you seen either of these two GEICO commercials?

Whether these are funny to you is a matter of personal taste.  I happen to enjoy the whimsy especially the one with the lizard buying his boss a drink.

But, there's something a little more critical I'd like to discuss here.  If you're a native English speaker, chances are you've heard the "bird in hand phrase" and "this little piggy" nursery rhyme as you were growing up.  But what if you're not a native English speaker?  What if you were raised abroad?

I bring this up because I'm an immigrant.  I bring this up because though my parents and their friends are intelligent and sophisticated, some of these GEICO commercials will be completely over their heads.  I bring this up because though Amir spent some of his childhood abroad yet is is extremely assimilated, he's mentioned that he doesn't get the pig.  These types of commercials are exclusionary and while I don't believe the account team intended to be exclusionary, the net effect is the same.  It can kind of feel like the inside joke between the cool kids in high school.

This is a marketing and business blog and this isn't a civil rights post.  I'm so not personally offended by the commercials at all.  It's just that when I see advertising like this (and many beer commercials typify what I'm talking about), I wonder if the marketing managers and their agency truly size the opportunity cost of this type of specific approach.  Do they have calculations of who might not "get it" for cultural reasons and how many of those would have been profitable customers for them?  Do they have cultural exclusion tolerances for people who don't get the pig?  I am guessing not.

And I think they should on some level.  If insurance, for example, is a highly competitive market, one wonders at an advertising approach that potentially limits its overall reach...  especially considering all of the reports that show that more than 50% of U.S. population will be non white by the middle of the century.  If you're starting out talking to half of the country only, is that even sustainable as a business model?

Now, for the record, I know of very few people who like milquetoast when it comes to marketing and advertising.  So, these musings are not a desire to suck the fun and creativity.  The point of advertising, after all, is to capture attention and not to deflect it.  I'm wondering why it is we can't develop advertising that appeals to all of us regardless of background as opposed to the inside joke.

Maybe the inside joke is the easy way out.  What do you think?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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