Online Car Insurance's Mascots Flo & The Gecko Are Social Media SuperStars

There's a lively debate as to whether an intangible service as mundane as online car insurance could possibly benefit from the value of social media. However, when these marketers realized that the marketing and selling of auto insurance is no different than the marketing and selling of another intangible product such as hotel accommodations, they quickly seized the opportunity with vigor - and with mascots to boot!

The most successful campaigns are those who know their markets and are focused on their customers' wants and needs, be it an inexpensive fee structure or package bundling. “The big pitfall is in not knowing your market,” says Laird Rixford, vice president of Products and Marketing at Insurance Technologies Corporation. “If you’re sitting there trying to sell commercial policies on Facebook, it’s just a waste of time.”

Facebook and Twitter offer the ability to showcase the personality of an insurance agency while assuring customers that they matter.

One has to only conjure up the recognizable spokespersons of Flo, the Progressive Girl and the now infamous Gecko from the Geico ads to begin to understand how auto insurance companies have learned to imbue an appealing amount of 'personality' into their service offerings.

On Facebook, “one out of every seven posts should be self-promotional,” Rixford said. “The other six should be just fun things that you are doing for charity, your community, what’s going on in your community. Just being out there is what people like to see.”

In 2012, for instance when Geico launched its "Gecko's Journey Across America," while TV commercial whet the consumers' appetite, the Gecko's tour of the country was far more comprehensive and interactive online, thanks to social media.

Gecko's Journey (Social Media) Journey Across AmericaGecko's Journey (Social Media) Journey Across America
Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media portals, the Gecko posted commentarty from the road, including photos and videos. With tweets and status updates, the Gecko delivered his perspective in the fun-loving way we as consumers have come to expect. What does a GEICO office look like to a gecko? Where would a gecko go in New York? Know a great place to eat in Dallas? Let the Gecko know and he just might end up there.

All of this was made possible by the Gecko Tracker, a unique application built specifically for the journey. Using the app on one's mobile device, we could view a map of all of the Gecko’s stops, and where he was traveling to next. And it featured the social media staple of being "user-generated" where folks could submit suggestions directly to him.

Campaigns like this helped car insurance mascots become familiar faces to the American consumer. With the support of social media, these types of inititatives refuted the old saw that "familiarity breeds contempt." In fact, quite the contrary -- to borrow from Facebook's nomenclature -- it resulted in a lot social media "liking."

According to Jeff Charney, chief marketing officer of Progressive Flo’s success is due to the fact that people are able to connect with her through her Facebook fan page. And with over 5.2 million fans, Flo comes in as one of the top FB fan pages of all time. And her fans find it easy to connect and relate to her because she comes across as real and honest.

On Twitter, Flo's handle is @ItsFlo - a very un-corporate type of approach. But it definitely reinforces her quirky personality, with tweets like:

What Flo doesn’t do is tackle customer inquiries and problems directly — @Progressive handles the customer complaints. Separating the customer service issues from the brand persona allows Flo to remain a brand-focused asset for her Progressive presence on Twitter.

Characters like Flo and the Gecko offer a softer sell which is a perfect fit for marketing vis a vis social media channels. The Mad Men "push marketing" is a thing of the past, as blatant selling or promotion in today's milieu is a definite turn-off for consumers.

When the customer has a say in the products and services they can engage with -- that's when it becomes the most appealing. And insurance companies like Progressive and Geico were two of the first to realize in creating to memorable mascots to sing their praises - they could harness social media to do their bidding. One could almost imagine these two now-iconic figures interacting in a joint commercial some day, don't you think?