Wednesday, July 1, 2009

So Easy Even a _______ Can Do It

When I first saw the Geico ad featuring the enigmatic caveman, I was instantly offended. It was a gut reaction, not an intellectual one. I did not immediately understand my reaction, but upon (very brief) reflection saw why I reacted so negatively to this commercial.

For those of you who are not familiar with Geico’s ads, I’m referring to an advertising campaign that stars a cast of characters who are supposed to be “real” cavemen living in the modern world and who, upon seeing Geico’s ads (see photo), become offended and protest.

The ad agency hired by the auto insurance company Geico first produced a commercial showing one of the cavemen in an airport on a moving walkway that carries him past a Geico billboard that says “So easy even a caveman can do it”. The caveman does a double-take and walks back to look at the ad. He shakes his head in disgust and goes off in a huff with an expression that tells you that he knows it’s hopeless to even protest such bigotry. Another commercial shows a Geico executive taking two offended cavemen to a fancy nouveau cuisine restaurant to apologize. One caveman tells the waiter (while glaring at the executive) that he’ll have “the roast duck with mango salsa”. The other caveman closes his menu and says sarcastically, “I’m sorry I don’t have much of an appetite” and then glares at the executive (as if to say “you can’t buy me off with this dated 90s era cuisine”).

Some people love these commercials, and entire websites are devoted to extolling the virtues of this brilliant ad campaign. I’m, however, not amused by the smug, nose-thumbing message that is clearly aimed at people who take exception to being treated like second-class citizens (women, non-whites, etc.). One can substitute just about any minority group into the ad’s tagline:

“So easy even a __________ can do it”

Reminds me of statements made in the workplace:

“Gee, Sharon, this analysis is so easy even YOU should be able to do it.”

“Well, this result is so obvious even Bob should be able to interpret it.”

The indirect message in the Geico caveman commercial is that minorities who raise grievances are mockable and such mockery is socially acceptable. Moreover, if you do not find these commercials funny, you have no sense of humor. I’m wondering if this indicates a new intolerance for people who question bigotry, painting them as “too sensitive”, “too emotional”, “can’t take a joke”, etc.

I also suspect that the target clients of Geico (unsophisticated 20-something male “Neanderthals” seeking auto insurance) are also being made fun of in this commercial (but they are presumed to be too dumb to recognize themselves).

Accusing someone of being overly sensitive is a tactic used to silence criticism of bad behavior (racism, chauvinism, sexual harassment). It works particularly well on women because we try to avoid falling into the category of the “overly emotional woman” who can’t function effectively in the workplace. The more you protest, the worse you look. This is what happens to the cavemen in the Geico commercial.

Final note: ABC developed the caveman commercial into a primetime TV series, which was cancelled after a few episodes. Apparently, when they removed much of the “offensive” content, it was no longer considered to be “funny”.

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