Ron Rosenbaum

The Geico Caveman Finally Jumps the Shark...


And just when he hit his peak. The caveman in the Geico ads is perhaps the most enigmatic character on tv now.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the series: Geico supposedly had run an ad saying, about their on-line auto insurance, “So easy even a caveman can do it.”

Then these two “real” cave men, who seem to live in a contemporary apartment and watch tv dressed like the rest of us– see it and protest. In the next ad–and this is the iconic one–a Geico exec takes them to a fancy nouvelle style restaurant to apologize. The iconic moment is when the two cavemen order. One tells the waiter with barely suppressed fury, “I’ll have the roast duck with mango salsa”. (as in “AS IF you can buy me off with this dated 90s era cuisine”). The other closes his menu and says, with a LOT of sarcastic attitude, “I’m sorry I don’t have much of an appetite.”

While the latter is the more in-your-face defiant and barely suppressed angry response, it is the former–“I’ll have the roast duck with mango salsa” that has somehow become iconic.

I’m not sure why? Maybe it’s just one of those great line-readings that somehow seem to say a lot without coming out and saying it Maybe because it embodies all the surreal contradictions the realistically filmed ad plays with. Cavemen don’t exist, really, but somehow they’re au courant enough to be unimpressed by now antiquated nouvelle cuisine. What’s up with that? Mango salsa indeed!.

It offered something that was both funny and puzzling in a provocative way. Where are they going with this, are they making a mistake by making the ad’s novelty more prominent than the ad’s product, always a danger with “creative” advertising?

Roast duck with mango salsa, What gives? Whatever it was, it certainly stayed with me. Our sympathies usually are with the offended group in offensive ads, but somehow the sniffy attitude of the cavemen, something about their a-little-too-neat J. Crew type gear, their self aggrandizing sense of grievance, went against the grain of that impulse.

And what does it say about contemporary civilization? Is it suggesting that there’s an all too easily offended cavemen within each of us? Just how civilized were the cavemen? Just how much more advanced than them are we?

I’m not sure why, but it was one of the few gimmick commercials that didn’t exhaust itself on the gimmick. It was the gimmick that kept on giving.

Roast duck with mango salsa. I never got tired of the delivery of that line.

But then they topped it with the Fox cable parody, where the faux-tough announcer who filled half the screen said “Face it you guys have had some trouble evolving”. And the caveman in the upper right quadrant delivers another iconic rejoinder with exasperated fashion-intern snark: “You know I’m not a hundred per cent in love with your tone.” In a tone that’s a hundred per cent in love with its own sarcasm. Followed by, “Yeah, walking upright, discovering fire, inventing the wheel creating the foundation of civilization–sorry we couldn’t get that to you sooner.”

Genius!

Following which, in the lower quadrant, we get the Liz Cheny type tartly observing, “Sounds like somebody got up on the wrong side of the rock.”

Love that too.

I’m sure I’m not the first to celebrate the virtuosity of that ad not mention the whole campaign. But I may be the first I’ve seen to say that–with the new “therapist” ad–the Caveman campaign has “jumped the shark” (I know saying something has “jumped the shark”–made a telling failed leap for innovation that betrays its lost freshness– has itself jumped the shark).

But here’s my theory about why the “therapist” ad jumped the shark:I think we like the mystique of the cavemen, the ridiculous premise carried to absurdly realistic lengths. That’s why the banality of the squash racket carrying airport ad was important. It’s triviality highlighted the exquisite silliness of the whole thing.

But the therapist ad suddenly reduces the provocative absurdity, the mystery of it all to tired Woody Allen schtick. The caveman is whining to his therapist about why the Geico caveman slogan bothers him so much.

Then his cell phone rings. “It’s my mother, I’ll put her on speaker”, he says. Sorry, it just doesn’t cut it. It’s more Seinfeld than Kafka.

It’s not too late to save the caveman series, but I think it’s time for a strategy session at the ad agency.
abcaveman.jpg
“First of all, I’m not a hundred per cent in love with the tone of this article. Maybe next time you should do a little research.”