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TV and Cavemen: The Unintended Metaphor

by Ann Handley  |  
March 7, 2007

Anyone else feel a little bemused at the news of ABC ordering a pilot of a TV sitcom based on Geico's cavemen characters?

First of all, good for Geico - .... it is a case study of marketing done well, and yet another example of blurring line between advertising and entertainment. Geico is creating some effective and memorable campaigns via direct mail, telemarketing, TV, radio and various online and social media platforms. Even the urbane little gecko has a blog.
With the announcement this week that ABC is interested in creating a TV show centered on the travails of the three misunderstood Geico cavemen living in modern day Atlanta, it is extending its reach into a place that, well– not even Geico could buy.
But I can't help but chuckle a little at the unintended metaphor of the networks developing prehistoric programming. In fact, in our Web 2.0 culture, TV itself feels increasingly Neanderthal to me. When I do watch network programming (my 10-year-old is addicted to American Idol), I feel impatient at its turtle pace, and held hostage by its scheduled programming and commercial interruptions.
So - .... kudos to Geico, which stands to benefit enormously.
As for the networks, well– the pilot program seems sadly appropriate. In other words, if the shoe fits... .
Thanks to Paul Barsch for the tip.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Lewis Green Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    The caveman is intriguing for 30 seconds; but will he (they) intrigue us for 30 minutes. The answer is in the writing and delivery, not in the external character. We love Geico's cavemen because we relate through their feelings and reactions to being singled out as something less than human. Sitcoms work when they successfully tap into our realities. Will ABC's cavemen do that?

  • by Pete Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Certainly ironic. Another irony - it's not new. At all. However, no one seems to give credit to SNL's original "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer." Man, I feel like a caveman - and I'm practically in Gen Y.

  • by Paul Barsch Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Ann, strangely enough, I see this pilot working, however I think it cannot be a "Joey" on NBC, a "Frasier" or similar sitcom. It needs to be offbeat and clever, like the commercials themselves. I'm thinking something like NBC's "The Office". That said, I fear the novelty will pass after one season unless they get some really good and comedic writers!

  • by Ann Handley Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Lewis and Paul: It always comes down to great writing and strong character development, doesn't it? Without both, for example, "House" is just another hospital show. Pete: You are RIGHT! I totally forgot about that... you relic. : )

  • by Claire Ratushny Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Ann, Exactly what I was thinking when I read your post. Sitcoms only do well when strong writing and the right cast is in place. However, with a fast-changing TV viewing public, I wonder how long a caveman show would have legs anyway. . .Better left as a commercial! I can also go further back than Pete: why can't we have The Flintstones back? So many of us grew up loving Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty. . .not to mention Pebbles and Bam-Bam. Remember Dino and Brontosaurus burgers? This rocked when I was a kid!

  • by David Reich Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Ann, don't forget that part of the reason the Geico campaigns are so memorable is that they're paying nearly half a billion dollars to pound it into your memory. According to Ad Age, Geico is the top spender in the auto insurance category, even though they rank #4 in auto premiums, behind State Farm, Allstate and Progressive. They're even outspending Coca-Cola. Nonetheless, this can be a nice windfall for Geico in terms of visibility and branding. If the show gets on the air and is a hit (both are long-shots), can you imagine all the lame copycats that'll pop up on the tube. Every brand with an ad icon will be trying to make it into a TV show. With tongue in cheek, I wrote about it the other day.

  • by Ryan Turner Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    Let's not forget ABC's two previous forays in this area from last century: the "Captain Caveman" cartoons in the '70s and, perhaps of greater consequence (?), the (in)famous Jim Henson creation "Dinosaurs". Sly corporate references (main character works for refinery: major characters all have oil-corp based names), within a sitcom format-- and the voices of Sherman Hemsley, Sally Struthers, Christopher Meloni, Jason Alexander, Tim Curry, Michael McKeon, Jessica Walter, Sam McMurray, et al. ABC managed to empower failures twice with this genre, but maybe given the careful brand extension with more realistic progenitors, and sharp writers who *aren't* sitcomers but good sketch writers, they have a shot. who knows? Downside: time to retire them as insurance pitchmen unless the commercials become longer? Paul: You were defending "Joey" as a real show?

  • by Tammy Strnatka Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    My husband and I are convinced that Val Kilmer is one of the cavemen. He hasn't been around, maybe he took the job to make money and remain anonymous. He can make a glorious "Oh My Gosh!" come-back in the sitcom. LOL!!!!! :-)

  • by Ann Handley Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    David: Love your post and brainstorm about the possibilities..."How about a heartwarming family series starring cute little Mikey from the old Life cereal commercials, playing a kid battling obesity...." Hysterical. See David's post here: Claire & Ryan -- I'm envisioning The Flintstones and cast of Dinosaurs as guest-stars.... lol...

  • by Paul McEnany Wed Mar 7, 2007 via blog

    It just goes to show, all that matters is making something compelling, and everything else will work itself out. Frankly, I don't care if they're trying to sell me something, I can't get enough of those cavemen!

  • by Anne Simons Sun Mar 11, 2007 via blog

    Hi Ann: Interesting topic. I'm not sure whether the show will succeed, but kudos to Geico and their agency for creating characters that people care about. I'll tune in at least once because I want to see what happens next. I am curious as to how Geico will leverage this as a branding opportunity...are they sponsors of the show? Consumers have short memories - the halo effect will be shortlived unless they do something to continue the association between the cavemen and their brand.

  • by CD Wed Mar 14, 2007 via blog

    You have to give Geico credit, they've had a lot of creative advertisements. I'm not sure about making the Caveman into a sitcom. They didn't give the gecko a show. It seems like there are very few good sitcoms now, after the demise of Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld. Reality TV has taken over, so I would say it's all in the hands of the writers. They have to have some amazing storylines to pull in the audience. At the least, Geico will get some great publicity out of the whole thing.

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