People who can't be bothered to care about insurance can be made to pay attention, for some reason, when there is a British lizard talking at them. That's why corporations all over have made cartoony animals and interesting humans the face of their company, fusing them with their logos like some kind of horrifying cyborg.
Most of these mascots were developed through painstaking market research with focus groups and consultants and all that crap, but some came about by crazy accidents, turning from one-shot jokes and planned easter eggs into company spokesmen. For example ...
The Geico Gecko
These days it seems like you can't get away from this Cockney lizard trying to sell you car insurance. He's constantly on TV, he appears in costumed mascot form at random county fairs and sporting events, and if you should ever wreck your car by, say, hypothetically driving it into your garage while a bike is on your after-market roof rack, and you happen to be insured by Geico, well, after you finish cursing, you'll very likely bring it to a shop you can tell is approved by Geico because of the numerous human-sized gecko displays.
The shop that I -- I mean this hypothetical person -- went to had a cardboard gecko display out on the sidewalk too, and a couple of posters and merchandise inside.
The sheer amount of money being spent on Geico's ad campaigns ($800 million in 2010) has gotten so out of control that it's making other insurance companies amp up their spending just to keep up.
State Farm in particular has had to make some really weird promises about what they can do.
And while a lot of that was being spent on the cavemen or the stack of money with googly eyes or one of their many many other campaigns, the gecko has been their moral leader since 1999, and it's his face that goes on their corporate logo.
So how on earth did Geico decide that an animated lizard with a British accent was the best face to put on a stodgy American insurance company? Well, they didn't really. They just wanted to make one commercial, in 1999, using a one-off joke to make sure people knew how to pronounce their company's name.
Yeah, that's Frasier doing his voice.
So it was supposed to be one and done for the gecko, until the Screen Actors Guild strike hit in 2000. In a scramble to find someone who wasn't part of the SAG, they stumbled back on the animated gecko they'd just used and signed him up for a whole campaign. So yeah, the Geico gecko is a dirty scab.
From then on, the inexplicably posh gecko captured people's hearts and attention with how much sense he didn't make, and slithered his way from a one-off commercial into a corporate logo.
Nintendo's famous Mario not only appears in about 120 percent of its games these days, but is also enmeshed irrevocably with its corporate image like tentacles in a host.
You're probably not wondering why Japan's most famous corporate mascot is an Italian plumber, because it's Japan. It could have been an emu with human hands and we wouldn't have batted an eye.
"Ohhh, it's a Japanese game. Of course."
But it's not just "a Japan thing." There's actually a reason behind everything Mario. Mario's first appearance was in a Japanese game called Jumpman (later called Donkey Kong), and he was known as "Mr. Video," a recurring character that his creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, hoped to slip into all the games he made, the same way Alfred Hitchcock gave himself a cameo role in all his films, except with better names.
Mario's gloves, mustache and overalls were the game designers' creative way of making the characters' hands, arms and facial features distinguishable in a 16x16 pixel space. The mustache was a great way to save pixels on the mouth, and the overall straps helped you see where his arms started. So just by trying to make the character's limbs and face readable, they accidentally created what looked like an Italian plumber, with the inexplicable name Mr. Video.
Fortunately for Nintendo, the Nintendo of America team working on translating the game got behind on their rent, which caused their landlord to come in and demand it. The landlord happened to be an Italian guy with suspenders named Mario Segale, and thanks to him walking in at the opportune moment, his name would never be forgotten, even though he seems to wish it was.
The Energizer Bunny
If you're a young whippersnapper, you won't remember the heyday of the Energizer Bunny -- or appreciate the classic tunes of Vanilla Ice or New Kids on the Block. From its creation in 1989, the Energizer Bunny interrupted fake commercials for coffee or some other boring product by drumming across the screen in the middle of the scene.
He's made 115 commercials at last count, being so hot at one point that he got screen time with Darth Vader.
And though his screen time has died down, he's still all over Energizer's website, and its packaging:
And he represents them at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade during the tribute to the most influential fictional characters in America that are shaped in ways which lend themselves to being formed into balloons:
If you ask people in the U.K. which battery is associated with a bunny, though, you might hear "Duracell," because people overseas are silly and don't know any better. But also because Duracell originated the use of the drumming toy bunny as a mascot in a European commercial.
Duracell's commercial showed an army of battery-powered bunnies slowly winding down, with the Duracell bunny being the last one going. So Energizer's very first bunny ad was actually an attack on the Duracell bunny, claiming they could beat the whole pack, including Duracell.
And that they could look cooler doing so. (In 1989, putting sunglasses on characters still made them cool.) So while the Duracell bunny still reigns supreme overseas, nobody in the U.S. knows what the fuck it is, while the Energizer bunny has been referenced by Americans in all walks of life -- including the highest level of awkward politicians trying to say something hip and relevant, from Bob Dole to Howard Dean to George H.W. Bush, and is still, as they say, "going and going and going."
I'll take my payment in cash, Energizer.