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Geico Insurance (US)

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Geico is a leading US insurance group, specialising in passenger automobile cover. The company has expanded dramatically since the 1990s, primarily through expansion of its highly effective direct insurance service, operated online or by mail and telephone. By bypassing agents' commissions, the company keeps costs very low, and passes on most of the benefits to customers, significantly undercutting the premiums charged by its main competitors, State Farm and Allstate. It has also established a strong presence in the popular consciousness of ordinary Americans with a barrage of oddball advertising campaigns and memorable slogans. The first to attract widespread attention featured Neanderthal cavemen transplanted to modern-day America and ran for several years. Numerous other campaigns have followed, each with a different theme, often running concurrently and promoting different Geico services. In 2016, Geico overtook AT&T and Verizon to become the top-spending advertising brand in the US. The company is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate controlled by legendary investor Warren Buffett.

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Brands & Activities

Geico's unusually aggressive approach to marketing has boosted it from a specialist insurer for government employees (the initial G and E of the corporate name) to one of the big three overall. It is the country's largest direct insurer and overtook rival Allstate for the first time in 2013 to become the #2 private passenger auto insurer behind State Farm. It retained that position for the fourth consecutive year in 2016, with total premiums written of $25.5bn, equivalent to 11.9% market share, according to NAIC rankings. It has a much smaller share of commercial auto, under 3%, with premiums written of $951m. The crucial difference is the fact that the vast majority of Geico's business is generated online rather than through the armies of agents employed by its two main rivals. By the end of 2016, the organisation provided cover around 24m vehicles on behalf of 16m policyholders, spread across right across the US. The company has set itself a target of overtaking State Farm to become the #1 auto insurer by 2030. The group also offers a broad range of other property and casualty services as well as life insurance.

Geico is by far the highest-spending advertiser among the country's auto insurers, and became the single biggest spending brand of all in 2016, above even AT&T and Verizon by measured expenditure.

The company's long-running brand mascot, a dancing gecko, was introduced by ad agency Martin in 1999, inspired by the fact that some customers had tended to mispronounce the company's name. It has featured off and on in advertising ever since, but has steadily been supplanted since 2004 by other campaigns, each with a different theme or "gimmick". Often bizarre or even surreal, they say little about the brand itself, but are merely designed to capture the attention in the most effective way possible.

The first of this new line of oddball campaigns ran from 2004 to around 2010 and featured two new brand mascots, the Geico cavemen. This concept originated as an ironic spin on a crass advertising boast that the Geico online service is so easy that "even a caveman can do it". These cavemen, however, were depicted as sophisticated modern-day urban yuppies offended by the discrimination implicit in the slogan. The joke was spun out in a long series of comic ads that proved so popular that the characters even briefly branched out with their own TV sitcom on ABC during 2007. (That didn't score as well with viewers, however, and was quickly dropped.)

Other campaigns have tended to play on catchy slogans and word play. The first of these, "Good News, Bad News", began in 2003, with a series of scenarios in which one character - for example a lawyer visiting his client in prison - had to deliver "bad news" to another, before adding "But the good news is I just saved money on my car insurance with Geico". Another long-running series featured a serious-faced on-screen announcer asking viewers, "Can you save money on car insurance with Geico?" before delivering another rhetorical yes-question which was then humorously depicted in a quick skit. A variety of similarly playful ads have followed.

Having already forced rival insurers to introduce their own character mascots (such as Progressive's Flo or Allstate's Mayhem), Geico then raised the stakes even further by running multiple different campaigns concurrently, promoting the company's growing range of services.

The group actually comprises seven separate units, of which the biggest by value is Geico Indemnity, which handles most auto insurance. Others include Geico Casualty, Geico Advantage, Geico Choice, Geico Secure and Geico County Mutual. Total premiums written by Geico and other Berkshire Hathaway insurance companies were $33.3bn in 2016.

Financials

Geico's revenues rose 12% in 2016 to a best-ever $25.48bn, on premiums written of $26.31bn. The business reported profit of $462m, up marginally on the year before.

Background

The Geico name is an acronym for Government Employees Insurance Company. The business was founded in 1936 by husband and wife Leo and Lilian Goodwin to offer discounted automobile insurance by mail to employees of federal government and senior military personnel, two groups calculated to be a considerably safer risk than the public at large by virtue of their jobs. The business prospered, and the Goodwins retired in 1958, passing control of Geico to investment banker Lorimer Davidson. He oversaw a period of rapid expansion during the 1960s, as Geico established sales and service offices around the country. In the 1970s, however, the company opened its services for the first time to ordinary civilians, and quickly discovered how much more of a risk they were than federal employees. Geico experienced a series of dramatic underwriting losses, coming perilously close to bankruptcy towards the middle of the decade.

Under new CEO William Snyder, the company recovered by launching a new program designed to eliminate risky clients. As a result, Geico still has a reputation for being picky about its customers, and is quick to increase premiums for difficult or accident-prone clients. In 1996, the company was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment group run by famed financial guru Warren Buffett. In fact, Buffett already had more than 40 years experience of the business. His career as a professional investor was reportedly launched with a $10,000 stake in Geico in 1951. Over the following years he steadily accumulated more shares until taking full control in 1996. That acquisition led to a new period of expansion for the company, as well as a huge boost in Geico's marketing.

Last full revision 29th November 2017

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