Geico Cavemen coming to ABC. Behind the Campaign

Rob Walker’s ‘Consumed‘ column at the New York Times has run this amazing piece that looks into exactly what has made the Cavemen from the Geico commercials pop culture icons and stars of an upcoming ABC sit-com pilot. There is such a buzz about these characters that it almost seems like people are actually paying attention to advertising still. (Of course, that’s a topic for a future post.)

The recent news that ABC was willing to entertain the possibility of a sitcom starring the Geico cavemen seemed a sort of watershed. Here were characters dreamed up as part of an advertising campaign, potentially crossing over into a venerable form of mainstream, pop-culture entertainment. While that sounds momentous, it misses a larger point. As characters in a successful advertising campaign, the cavemen are already part of mainstream pop culture. More so, in fact, than the characters in most current sitcoms.

If a caveman sitcom materializes, its great challenge will be figuring out how to make an already-popular concept work in such a staid, predictable context. After all, pretty much every late-night monologuist and morning-show host has riffed on Geico advertising; what new sitcom in the past five years has achieved such status as a universally understood reference point? But it’s not hard to see why ABC would be willing to give Martin Agency writers a shot at it. Finding an audience willing to accept advertising characters as entertainment is hardly a hurdle; clearly, an audience has already accepted, and embraced, the cavemen.

I’m intrigued that the television pilot is actually being scripted by the same ad agency that came up with the Caveman characters in the first place. So there’s some danger that the show will come up looking like one long commercial. But if they’re careful to maintain a light satire under current, I could see them lampooning all sorts of commercial idioms (think Product Placement, Jingles, etc).