How the Geico Gecko Became My Everyman Hero

If you watch as much TV sports as I do, and care as much about popular culture, there comes a day when you wake up and say to yourself, Why am I in love with that Geico gecko?

I called the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., to find out who he is.

The Gecko.

Dean Jarrett, the company spokesman, said the gecko icon has been around for eight or nine years. It originated as a cute way to get people to recognize the name Geico—the gecko was holding a press conference to tell people to stop calling him when they wanted car insurance. And at that time the agency gave it an English accent.

The gecko continued to appear in Geico ads doing cameos and interacting with people till last year when the lizard was named top ad icon along with Juan Valdez, as part of Advertising Week in New York, and the insurance company and its ad agency decided that if people liked the gecko so much they would give them all gecko. They’d do a series of ads containing only the gecko, and a “more evolved” and approachable gecko, Jarrett says—the nine ads that began appearing last winter and so enthralled me.

“We created a character from the ground up,” says Joe Lawson, 37, the ad writer. It was the ad agency’s idea that the gecko should lose its aristocratic English accent and get an East London cockney accent, become an everyman. “A young Michael Caine, that was almost the casting spec.” Lawson went to London last year to find the perfect voice. That and the animation took three and a half months all told, “a ridiculous amount of time to make a commercial,” he adds. The animator was the same one, Frameworks, that did the Harry Potter movies.

The sophistication comes through every pore (Fact checker: Do lizards have pores?). The makers sought a very natural icon, a “total normal human being trapped in the body of a gecko—adding something new to the genre of icon,” Lawson says. No Pillsbury doughboy, no caricature, nothing “hopped up on pills, needing Ritalin.” The character was to be “relaxed, self-assured, not obnoxious, not selling you.” The actor’s voice would slur words, even stammer, the way a real person stops and starts. And the animator used as its model Lawson himself, a lowkey guy with a certain delicacy who by then had begun to inhabit the character. His gecko now and then flicks something off his body with a finger or jumps a little when he feels he’s slipping off his branch, but there’s no drama, and no airs.

The ads have gotten a ton of attention but Geico and Martin have refused to say who does the voice. Because it would break the spell. “It’s like Mickey Mouse, you don’t want to see a punk teenager unzipping the costume and stepping out,” Lawson says. “Geico likes him as a standalone character.”

That’s who I fell for. The gecko is my salt-of-the-earth buddy, he’s not in competition with me. He’s not a successful yuppie meritocrat like all those creepy people in the SUV ads. He is, and this may be the heart of it, downwardly mobile. How the Geico Gecko Became My Everyman Hero