The Geico guy discovers the power of the web

Have you heard the story about the voiceover actor for Geico, the insurance company, who left a dodgy voicemail on the machine of a Tea Party group and then got fired when the voicemail was released on the internet?

Well, in the latest chapter of the PR battle, the voiceover actor Lance Baxter, aka D.C. Douglas, released this video compilation of the messages from angry Tea Party activists left on his answering machine, which his dulcet tones introducing the package.

It’s all rather curious and funny but, more important, it points to two interesting trends.

One, the power of the internet to transmit messages to a wide audience quickly and powerfully. In a pre-internet age, there is no way this would have spread so quickly and, no doubt, the impact on Baxter’s career wouldn’t have been so severe. The dissemination of messages was key to getting him fired but it also provided an outlet for him to try and get back at his opponents and to clarify his own position – he doesn’t hold a grudge against Geico and realises they have a brand to protect.

Second, reputation matters for all companies. That isn’t new but it is interesting that Geico has a history of distancing itself from more extreme causes on the back of consumer pressure. Last year, for example, the company stopped advertising from the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck show. So, what was different about this? Was it the language he used, which was admittedly impolitic? Or is there something different about individualising the attack in this way? Or was Geico merely responding to a grassroots campaign when it came to Glenn Beck, whereas they concern themselves less with a bunch of Tea Party activists?

Hat tip: Mediabistro

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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