Advertising, An Uninvited Guest

maxwellI worked in the ad business for the first 23 years of my career. I entered the business an AE at Needham, Harper & Steers in their NY office in 1976, and in late 1977 I went over to BBDO/New York where my career accelerated in my 12-year tenure at the agency. In the late 80s/90s I came to Philadelphia to run two of Philadelphia’s largest ad agencies, Earle Palmer Brown, and RBT/Strum (Star Group). But for the last 20 years I have run my consulting business working as a business consultant to both agencies and companies. So I am now a half step removed from my earlier life.

I used to think what I did as an “ad guy” was important, and that advertising itself was important. I still believe that, to an extent, though with the wisdom of age, I appreciate that it was far less important than I believed in yesteryear.

At BBDO, I learned that TV builds brands. That was 100% true in the 70s and 80s, though obviously less true today. But the power of a brilliant idea can be a tremendous business builder. I also learned that while most advertising is an “uninvited guest” in American’s homes, and alas was the cost we all pay for receiving programming/content we seek. At the same time great advertising is in fact a welcomed guest into our homes, and not the irritant that bad advertising can be.

In today’s world, TV advertising while still important in brand building, is not as important. However video in general, traditional TV ads as well as video content not merely delivered in 30 second segments, remains a powerful tool.  The power of video was is, and forever will be driven by a brilliant idea.

In that vein one campaign I truly admire is GEICO’s. Their agency for more than 20 years is The Martin Agency headquartered in Richmond, VA. Beyond the brilliant creativity of the work, GEICO also clearly digs deep into their pockets in exposing their messages. They have created campaigns within campaign and work so brilliant that they are now running a “best of” series, with those snippets of brilliance brought back to life. And like an old friend, they are welcome in my home again and again.

What I learned in my past ad life was to be wary of “wear-out”. There were formulas, based on exposure of messages based on the heaviest viewing quintiles, that guided when messages were worn out and pool-outs of the campaign were necessary. In retrospect those theories were rubbish. Truly great ads can run and run and run. And mediocre ones should be killed on arrival. But the agency and its client are often too invested in a weak idea to admit its mediocrity.

GEICO advertising worst spots are merely really good, and their best are all-time brilliance. In creating their “best of” campaign and seeking viewers to vote for their favorites, I am using Strumings to cast by ballot.

Here are my favorite 3 GEICO ads of all time (in order):

1. Maxwell the Pig crying wheeeee all the way home (shown above)

The pinwheels are brilliant and the irritation of the mom/driver is classic. And the dialog, “Cool. Thanks Mrs. A” is great

2. Caveman going through airport seeing himself on a billboard

The little business of the Caveman backing up, smugly viewing himself is great and the “Remind Me” music is infectious.

3. Call from mom–Action sequence on the roof of a building

The squirrels outside the home running by the pool as mom as is talking to her son should get best supporting actors awards (and the Zumba class line is classic). And casting of the mom was brilliant.

I dare anyone to apply a mathematical formula to these to determine wear-out of these spots. To me they will wear out when the “Dad, do you want to have a catch” scene of Field of Dreams wears out. (never)

Ads like GEICO’s are invited guests in my house every day—day and night. Thanks for bringing back old friends. Stick around.

More Strumings


  1. ks says:

    I’ve always thought of advertising as the most important unimportant thing in the world. When poorly executed it’s a nuisance bordering on irritant. The best advertising, however, is clever, beautifully produced and culturally significant. I still remember* such spots as “where’s the beef” and “Apple/1984” as being important markers for my generation. Great work of any form seeps into our language and behavior as does film, music or literature.

    *Because I’m old.

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