Commercial Break: Who’s Watching GEICO Commercials?
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 9, 2009
GEICO had so many concurrent successful ad campaigns–the “But there is some good news” series, the GEICO Gekko series, the “So Easy a Caveman Could Do It” series, the immortal Tiny House–that when they phoned it in in 2008, it was nearly devestating. Almost an entire year of nothing but progressively weaker Cavemen and Gekko retreads left a huge gap where you could normally regularly pencil ina half-dozen essential, must-watch ads a year–space where Swiffer, Skittles and Snickers ads had to step up to fill in and help keep us from going mad over terrible Bud Light and Wendy’s commercials. But hey, even the Yankees can miss the playoffs once ever decade or so, so I was willing to forgive and forget if they could start to turn things around a little in 2009.
Enter the “Money You Could Be Saving with GEICO” series. If you’ve been watching TV at all in this calendar year, no doubt you’re well-versed in the general concept–ordinary folk get vaguely creeped out by a stack of dollar bills with glued-on googly eyes that appears to be staring at them, until they are informed that the green represents (or rather, precisely is) the money that they could be saving, were they merely employing GEICO to provide their car insurance. At that point, a cheap house-y cover of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” starts to blare, with the “TELL ME WHOOOO’S WATCHIN’?!?!?” line. A couple are even more direct, merely showing the googly-eyed duckets and insisting that the bills are “staring deep into your soul…[knowing] you like to save money on car insurance.”
When I first saw these, I thought that GEICO had sunk to a new low–the ads were cheesy, illogical, and a little bit unsettling. Not the any of these qualities were new to GEICO commercials per se, but there was nary a clever catchphrase or bizarre celebrity to be found to make up for them in these. Gradually, though, I’ve begun to come around to them–partly due to the nature of TV commercials (especially weird ones) being as such that the more you see them, the more acclimated you become to their sick little universes. Especially the one I linked to above–there’s something so quintesentially odd about the rhythm of the whole thing. Who is this rich couple? Why do they seem so unimpressed by the bizarre explanation of the hundo stack staring at them? And what is the vested interest of that weirdo waiter in The Money They Could Be Saving With GEICO? Does he get a cut or a commission or some such? The answers are there somewhere, and by the 137th time I have watched this commercial, I will surely have figured it out.
Of course, a large part of the appeal is in the song choice. People get so caught up in the “Dancing on the Ceiling”s and “Push it to the Limit”s of the world that they forget that coke-fury also inspired a lot of fucked up, exceedingly paranoid songs as well, and “Somebody’s Watching Me” was arguably the best of the bunch–a strangely theatrical, haunted house (both in terms of spookiess and corniness) of a pop song. GEICO of course chose to use the song in its most literal, “My Own Worst Enemy”-esque sense, but the song carries all the surreal associations along with it that ends up fitting these strangety strange commercials pretty well. I don’t get why the trashy dance cover–perhaps Rockwell’s paranoia extends to marketing campaigns as well–but the song functions in these ads the same way “Baby Come Back” did in those Swiffer ads I loved so much from last year, providing a sort of punchline to the commercial that you spend the entire time waiting for and feel a perverse satisfaction out of finally getting to.
I might hate them again in a week or so, though, so don’t quote me on any of this.