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Ad icons star in other brands' commercials

The blurring of the advertising world with sports, entertainment and news has taken on a new twist: the blurring of commercials with other commercials.

This latest Madison Avenue trend shows how strongly brand icons become a part of pop culture - so much that they can take on lives of their own and are being used in ads for other marketers, sometimes related and often unrelated.

The latest such crossover can be seen in ads that begin airing Monday. The Taco Bell Chihuahua steps out of forced retirement from the fast food chain and into an ad for Geico, joining the insurance company's own ad mascot, a gecko lizard.

"For good or for ill, advertising icons are as much a part of our culture as R2D2 or other movie icons," says Stephen Bassett, group creative director for The Martin Agency, which created the Geico ad after Taco Bell lawyers OK'd the arrangement.

"It provides instant recognition and likeability, and you don't have to spend 30-seconds to create a personality."

Other moonlighting ad personalities recently:

  • Taking a spin. The Maytag repairmen, known for having so much free time because Maytag products are supposed to rarely need their services, have been out cruising around in a Chevrolet Impala in recent ads for the car brand.
  • Seeing red. "Red," the animated spokescandy for M&M's, has been two-timing his sidekick "Yellow" by appearing in Duncan Hines cake mix ads that also promote the candies as cake decorations.

In a few cases, marketers have mixed not just their symbols, but also their products in ads for other products. Sony recently paid for placement of its Vaio laptop in an ad for Toyota's Matrix model. The computer is promoted at the same time it's used to show off the utility of the vehicle's 110-volt electrical outlet.

For Geico insurance ads, the now out-of-work dog will be working with Geico's computer-animated gecko. The hook in previous ads is that the character is frequently annoyed by calls from consumers looking for cheaper insurance who confuse Geico and gecko.

In the new ad, he decides that if he can't escape it, he'll just try to join the company as an official endorser. But to do so, he has to get past the competition for the job, which includes the Taco Bell dog.

"Part of the idea is to stay out of the mundane clutter of insurance advertising," says Ted Ward, vice president of marketing for Geico. "While we talk about the importance of insurance to protect from disaster, we talk about claim services and use humor to help with it."

The gecko first began to appear in ads for the Berkshire Hathaway-owned insurance company in 1999. The company stepped up the role of the gecko in response to the unavailability for months of union actors during the 2000 commercial actors strike.

Will viewers be confused when the Taco Bell dog shows up in the Geico ad?

"Our idea here was not to confuse people," Ward says. "There's not much going on between insurance and Taco Bell."


Theresa Howard, USA Today. May 20, 2002

Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.