The Deconstructed Brief

Smart Dogs


Brand: GEICO
Agency: The Martin Agency


Technology is ever present in our lives: There is no off switch for the constant flow of information consumers take in every day. In 2019, the number of mobile phones users worldwide is forecasted to reach 4.68 billion, and 660,000 of those people are attempting on a daily basis to use their phones while driving. According to GEICO, one in three crashes is caused by a distracted driver — likely a result of the fact that only one one in five drivers sets the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” mode on their cell phones. Researchers estimate that four million of the nearly 11 million crashes occurring in the United States annually could be avoided if no distraction were present. As a result of these distractions, nine people die every day in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving. 

As an auto insurance provider, GEICO maintains a vested interest in preventing the number of user-based crashes occurring on the road — a fast-growing problem. According to scientific research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serials: “[C]rash causation has shifted dramatically in recent years, with driver-related factors present in almost 90 percent of crashes,” with handheld electronic devices serving as the source of the highest use rates and risk. 

How can GEICO confront consumers about an uncomfortable topic — danger and potential death — and convince them to change their habits without deviating from a lighthearted and playful brand voice?

Key Insight

There won’t always be someone present to remind drivers not to use their cell phone while driving, and even when a friend or family member is present, he or she is reluctant to police the behavior of others.

One thought

Avoiding distracted driving is so simple that even your dog knows better.

The idea:

According to the statistics surrounding distracted driving, odds are good that you or someone you know has been in a crash. GEICO provides viewers with a comical take on a serious issue in order to help start a conversation with family and friends about the dangers of distracted driving. To promote safe driving, its commercial features “smart dogs” who stop distracted driving habits by turning on the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature on cell phones, knocking phones out of peoples’ hands and halting a selfie dance party occurring while people are stopped at a red light. 

GEICO released its campaign during Distracted Driving Awareness Month (April). The campaign ran on national television and in digital ads, where it received overwhelmingly positive sentiment (71 percent) from consumers. Content related to the campaign received above-average engagement for the company on social media.

What they said:

“Distracted driving is an epidemic,” reads GEICO’s microsite addressing the problem. “There’s a dangerous sort of cultural complacency that’s overtaken us, especially when it comes to using our devices; however, progress is being made...lots of organizations — including government agencies, nonprofits and tech companies — are helping to create a growing awareness of the problem.”

Lessons to be learned:

  • Humor makes the abstract relatable and the boring understandable. As important as it is to create a memorable commercial, the actual message of what is being promoted should not get lost in flashy graphics or interesting storytelling. GEICO does a great job of incorporating the humor, hook and facts in a relatable message that balances appeal with purpose. The brand provides this in two ways: pulling on the humor and heartstrings of dog lovers and reaching consumers who have been affected or know someone who has been affected by distracted driving. This platform gives consumers the ability to recall the cute “smart dogs” that make the commercial and then remember the purpose of why the commercial was created.

  • Statistics don’t have to be boring, as long as you find a balance. — Companies don’t want to saturate their consumers with too much tactical information; however, providing stats helps drive home the message. GEICO provides the right balance of statistics and humor that not only catches consumers off guard but makes them think about the dangers of distracted driving. The Smart Dogs hook makes consumers watch the commercial, and the stats that follow make them think about the true meaning behind the humorous message.

  • Use the “Rule of 7” when getting a message across. — GEICO incorporates an advertising method in its commercial that is known as the Rule of 7. This rule states that, for consumers to really pay attention to your content, they need to see it at least seven times. 

    1. Smart Dog swipes a piece of paper, labeled “smartphone.” 

    2. Smart Dog stops a driver from “liking” a post while driving.

    3. Smart Dog grabs a phone to stop someone from taking a selfie.

    4. Smart Dog stops a friend from filming a dance party while driving.

    5. Smart Dog takes a phone away while the person is not driving.

    6. Three Smart Dogs take down someone just holding a smartphone

    7. Smart Dog turns on the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature.

    This commercial also features scattered pieces of paper flying around with images of smartphones on them, and dogs performing similar stunts in the background. In general, it could be useful to remember the Rule of 7 to figure out how to creatively promote the message or product you’re trying to sell by incorporating it into your marketing and advertising tactics.