Geico Botches Direct Mail Personalization

By | January 25, 2014

It’s become part of our national consciousness . . . “Mike, Mike, Mike! What day is it? HUMP D-A-A-A-A-Y!!!”  It’s the Geico camel and his ridiculous waddle through the office. “Hump D-A-A-A-A-Y!” has become one of those brand phrases that become incorporated into our daily speech.

IMG_3048That’s why when this letter showed up in our mailbox, it had such promise. The familiar “Mike, Mike, Mike” replaced with “John, John, John” and the familiar camel staring at me across the envelope.

Unfortunately for Geico, there is no John here. It’s a quirk related to our former address. John is my father-in-law’s name, and it seems that the list never got cleaned.

Personalization should have really worked here. Unfortunately, when you get a name wrong — especially on the outside of the envelope — it’s not a good marketing tactic.

There are techniques to clean up messes like this before they happen. People move all the time, and there are tactics for identifying and removing duplicate names within a defined geographic radius.

If your clients are purchasing lists for producing personalized prospect mailings, work with someone who knows the pitfalls of purchased data and how to avoid common mistakes. When embarrassments like these get avoided, you look like the hero and your client doesn’t look like the heel.

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12 thoughts on “Geico Botches Direct Mail Personalization

  1. Kate Dunn

    Too bad. I agree it would have been a great idea for a personalized campaign. can you tell if there was any other relevance included if you had been your father-in-law?

  2. Steve Brown

    I agree that marketers should use experienced partners to help avoid these types of mistakes. I disagree with your assessment that this was a failed campaign. Unless Geico was completely careless in their list management, it is likely that 99.9999% of the mailing list was accurate. The longer the mailing list, the higher the chance for an occasional mistake. Errors on mailings with personal data must be 100% accurate, but for new customer acquisition, Geico and others can have minor errors and still have a very successful effort. They’re even getting PR for making an error – which in some marketing circles would call a win all the same.

  3. Bruce Woodward

    I agree with Steve Brown here. In my 30 years of mailing personalized mail, I would not call this a failed campaign – not at all. DM’rs are taught to judge a campaign by its results, which we don’t have in this article. And with regard to list inaccuracies, I believe the focus should be on the number of pieces that received correct personalization – probably well in excess of 85%. We all know that freshly rented lists are immediately 5-10% out of date even after all available industry hygiene process have been applied. I would argue that “errors” like this are part and parcel of all personalized DM (collateral damage) and I reserve the error label for truncated fields, lazy upper/lower case hygiene, poorly chosen default solutions for empty fields, etc.

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    @Kate, no I didn’t. We’re happy with our car insurance, so there was no need for me to open the envelope. If the personalization had be accurate, it might have piqued my curiosity. “We’re not looking to switch providers, but since they took the time to personalize my name, I wonder if there is something else personalized to me that might make this more relevant than I think it is?” But since Geico botched the personalization, I figured that the interior didn’t contain anything more relevant than average either, so my standing opinion, “I know what Geico offers, we’re happy with our insurance, so I don’t need to know anything inside this envelope,” stood.

  5. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    @Steve. I didn’t say the entire campaign was botched — just our mailer! My point is that, as a large brand marketer, Geico should have known better, should have been better advised by its marketing partners, and certainly had the money to prevent such errors from taking place. Does Geico get extra mileage out of it? Sure, they do. But by giving me something to write about, they do a service to the industry!

  6. Gina Danner

    I think one question to consider is if this personalization was appropriate at the point in time it was presented. I’m guessing that you were not in the market for insurance and hence any marketing to your household was highly unlikely to move the needle.

    I have a chart on my wall that walks through the point to use personalization for the greatest return. This appears to have been an acquisition campaign with nothing other than some name game personalization. Really more MASS marketing than personalized direct marketing.

    For mass marketing a marketer should use other channels than direct mail. Once a candidate raises her hand then take her down the funnel to more personalized approaches. As you collect data on the prospect you can enhance the personal elements of the campaign.

    With all that said, I would love to better understand the list targeting (aka how did they select your household to mail to) and the results for this campaign.

  7. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    This leads to the whole discussion about lead nurturing and channel segmentation. In this industry, I think we’re at the point with these concepts that we were with true demographic and psychographic targeting a decade ago. We’re just starting to talk about it, but only the very leading-edge providers are doing it, but over time, it will become more widely understood and implemented. But I love your point, Gina, and that’s a discussion we need to have more publicly and more frequently.

  8. Bruce Woodward

    Another viewpoint. Granted personalization may work ‘best’ the more developed the lead is, the further down the funnel, the stronger the relationship – no argument. But personalization typically works in mass comm “better” than no personalization at all. Even the littlest tweaks can provide lift. When I get a Publishers Clearinghouse mailer with my name in 100 pt Hot Pink, I don’t think for a minute that I’m being singled out as special. My name in lights is there merely to get my attention. And with regard to this Geico Camel mailer, the use of “John” on the creative was absolutely essential to tie the concept to “Mike” in the well known TV version. Two things for certain: 1) Geico mails billions of acquisition pieces every year and 2) Geico has accurate stats on control vs. package variations. We can be sure the decision to personalize this mass mailing was solidly based on ROI and we can assume that its use was prudent. I’m not discounting the ideal conditions and sophisticated lead nurturing scenarios others have referenced in this thread. Of course the last 10 years have brought us both the science and tools to identify, segment and improve relevance. I am only reminding us that large quantity unsophisticated mass mailings with inexpensive packages and crude personalization still hold a place in the DM arsenal because of positive ROIs and lower CPOs than other media. For some marketers it’s not about the recipients’ perception or the industry’s judgment. It’s about the bottom line.

  9. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Good point, but the reason Geico can get away with this is because it DOES mail millions every year. If this were a smaller marketer, it wouldn’t be able to get away with that. There’s the rub with this line of discussion. The rules aren’t equal for all marketers across the board.

  10. Hal Hinderliter

    Gina, sounds like an interesting chart — feel like sharing it with the class?

  11. Tom Kenny

    Heidi – I’m guessing the letter was mailed to your father-in-law. We all try to be perfect but stuff does happen. Now if the solicitation was sent with your name in the address block and JOHN in the camel graphic, then I would agree it was a botch.

  12. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Tom, I understand your point. But my father-in-law doesn’t live at this address. He does not own the house. He does not pay for utilities here. His name has no association with this address whatsoever. There was an association with our PREVIOUS address, but not this one. Hence the oddity of this mistake.

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