Is Berkshires’ Geico Advertising Campaign Paying Off?

Is Berkshires’ Geico Advertising Campaign Paying Off?
By Mark Hirschey (Work of Mark Hirschey) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Is Berkshires' Geico Advertising Campaign Paying Off?

Whether it’s a billboard, the Internet or television ads, Warren Buffet’s Geico Corp. (NYSE:BRK.A, BRK.B) is everywhere. And they should be considering they spent almost a $1 billion in 2011 to do so, according to SNL Financial LC data.

This figure (ok, it was actually $993.8 million) represents the highest figure in one year for a car insurer and is 10 percent higher than 2010’s $902.7 million reported the Wall Street Journal.

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Last year, Geico represented one out of every six marketing dollars in the property-and-casualty industry, said SNL. But with its 10 percent rise, it came in below the industry’s 15 percent growth rate.

So why is Geico increasing spending now? Insurers are embracing the mantra bigger is better for name recognition. While State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the largest U.S. home and auto insurer in premiums according to SNL, came in behind with a 29 percent increase in marketing spending, they sit as the second highest.

And don’t look for the increased spending to end any time soon. Patrick Sullivan, an Auto Insurance Report writer said to the Wall Street Journal, “It is not stopping, there are no signs of slowing down just yet. They are just marching along. It’s pretty crazy.”

Insurance Companies and their Ad Dollars

Earlier in the year, SNL put together a list of big insurance spenders derived from state-insurance department data. It reviewed property-casualty insurer reports regardless of their business lines. The insurers had been required to put together a comprehensive list of costs for advertising in newspaper, billboard and television along with public relations expenses, firms, medals, agents’ plaques, mailing lists and numerous other things, reported the Wall Street Journal.

For some, the high spending figures don’t come as a surprise. Robert Hartwig, president of the trade group Insurance Information Institute, said auto insurance “is the largest of all property-casualty insurance lines, accounting for more than one-third of all premiums written, and it accounts for a much higher proportion of the advertising dollar.”

He has estimated that over half of all advertising in property casualty correlated with auto insurance.

For insurance companies, they keep a close watch on their advertising. As the third highest spender with $745.3 million in 2011,  The Allstate Corporation. (NYSE:ALL), said in an October internal presentation that it lost some consumer awareness with its television ads and its call center volume had declined by 30 percent in July 2011 after the company cut its direct-mail market. To combat the declines, Allstate introduced an initiative to increase sales toward year’s end.

While Internet advertising is on the rise, at the end of the day television ads are the heart of insurance companies media campaigns, reported the Wall Street Journal. For Geico, its Gecko campaign competes against State Farm’s good-neighbor story and Allstate’s  “Mayhem” ads–one of its many campaigns.

But is all the money spent on marketing worth it? According to SNL,Geico’s ad budget was 6.5 percent of its 2011 written premiums. As compared to the other five large U.S. auto insurers, none of them spent higher than 4.9 percent of premiums on their ads.

For the entire industry, the average is 2.4 percent reported Reuters.

In the last 20 years, Geico’s market share has almost quadrupled with a lot of credit going to its advertising program. But when compared to U.S. auto insurers, Geico’s market share is about 8.5 percent. This places it as No. 3 behind Allstate Corp’s 10.2 percent and State Farm’s 18.7 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

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