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Between the Motos: GEICO Powersports' Eric Vaden

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Recently, we ran into GEICO Powersports marketing manager Eric Vaden at the team race shop in southern California. The reason why GEICO is in all caps is because it’s actually an acronym, which stands for Government Employees Insurance Company. GEICO used to just do insurance for government employees, before expanding to the general public. It’s actually a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, headed by Warren Buffett. When you talk about corporate involvement in motocross and supercross, it doesn’t get a lot bigger than that.

  • Eric Vaden is the man behind the GEICO Powesports sponsorship of the Factory Connection Racing team.
  • GEICO Powersports Honda riders Trey Canard (1) and Kevin Windham (14).
  • Brett Metcalfe will make his GEICO Powersports Honda debut this weekend in Houston.
  • West rider Dan Reardon.
  • Blake Wharton is making his supercross debut in Houston.
  • Kevin Windham.
Racer X: How did you guys get involved in motocross and supercross?

Eric Vaden: To be quite frank, we have been looking at supercross for quite some time, and we wanted to get involved, but the way that GEICO does business, we try to be extremely efficient in all of our media buys, and the price to be involved in supercross at any level, until now, has been out of our reach. Not that we couldn’t afford it, but that we wouldn’t pay it. It just wasn’t worth the investment at the time. So I started talking to Bob Walker, who owns a company called Connections, Sports Entertainment, which is an Omnicom agency, and I also used to work for an Omnicom agency, so we had a little brotherhood going on, and we could speak candidly about where GEICO wanted to be. I told him what I was looking for, and he went out and found Factory Connection for me. I guess he was already representing them, and we negotiated a great deal and got the team on board for 2008. We basically picked up where Torco Racing Fuel left off. We helped the team out of a bind. Their sponsor went away, and they were in a financial pickle, so we helped them out, and for that, we got a really good rate this year and were able to do a lot more. That’s the long and short of it, how we got started, but it’s no secret that Progressive has a stranglehold on supercross, and has for a while, and because of that, it’s been difficult to get involved, just as it is with GEICO stuff – if I’m a major sponsor of another sport, I don’t want my competitors coming in there. I understood that, but there are other ways around these things. We really just wanted to reach out to the supercross fans. It’s a cool sport. I personally love it, so for me to get involved in this is a big milestone for me.

Knowing that GEICO Powersports, as anyone who has seen the commercials knows, is not just for motorcycles, but for boats and motor homes and all of that kind of stuff, what was it specifically about this sport that you guys wanted to utilize to push this brand?
To be honest with you, a lot of people who own dirt bikes, or who own motorcycles in general, have other things. They have cars, for example. They don’t ride to work on their dirt bike. They have motor homes, they take their dirt bikes in the back of a pickup truck, they have ATVs... Basically, what it boils down to is that the demographic, generally, skews higher in other powersport ownership than some other forums do. It fits very well into my mould, where I’m looking to advertise the fact that we have multiple lines of products. We don’t just do car insurance anymore. We do much more than that, and we can insure, or help you insure, everything that moves you. If we can’t insure it ourselves, and it doesn’t go on GEICO paper, we have an affiliate that will pick it up and help you insure it. You still get the great customer service from a GEICO rep, you still get the convenience of using GEICO.com, and you get all of that for a very low rate, so it’s good.

So, how come the GEICO gecko has a British accent?
That’s a funny story, actually, and it’s something your readers might be interested in. It was 1996, and the Screen Actors’ Guild – SAG – went on strike. When they went on strike, you couldn’t get any U.S. talent. No writers, no actors, nothing. So we couldn’t get anybody to be on-screen, first of all, so we went to animation. The reason the gecko has a British accent is because we needed to bring in a British actor to do the voice, because we couldn’t get any American voices.

It’s funny because it became such a great marketing ploy to have this gecko with what seems to be a random British accent, using British phrases and whatnot.
Yeah, it’s one of those happy accidents in marketing and advertising. You can never be the super-genius that everyone thinks you are, but you can definitely have a couple happy accidents happen to you and advance your career and your company. It’s a good thing! It was a circumstance that was beyond our control that basically led us down that path, and then when it was all said and done, we had a British-speaking gecko that was the best spokes-lizard of all time. SoBe is now jumping on the gecko bandwagon and they’re pushing their drinks with a bunch of dancing geckos, so... Everyone realizes now that geckos are by far the most effective sports marketing creatures. What’s the greatest marketing secret of all? If someone asks, you just look them straight in the eye and say, “Geckos, man. Geckos. If you want to sell something, put a gecko on it.”

  • Kevin Windham.
  • Blake Wharton.
  • Dan Reardon.
  • Brett Metcalfe.
  • Trey Canard.
The gecko seems relatively obvious, with GEICO and gecko sounding so much alike, but it was the British-accent thing that threw me off.
Yeah, the gecko thing makes sense. He would be in his house taking a shower, and the phone would ring, but it was the wrong number. They were calling for GEICO, and he was like, “No, this is the gecko!” And he was annoyed, but then he eventually came over to our side. It was the same with the cavemen. We made an offensive remark once that the GEICO.com website was so easy that even a caveman can do it. We didn’t realize that there were still cavemen out there and that they were quite offended. We had to smooth that over, but they’re coming around.

Not really, because I saw them on the beach recently and they were really mad, still.
Stay tuned, my friend, because I think you’ll be surprised at what you see moving forward.

What’s the ultimate goal of GEICO Powersports in this sport? Is this something that you see being a staple of your marketing strategy, or not?
Well, we have a lot of exciting partnerships right now with some of our sports celebrities, and in the coming months, you’ll start seeing more and more of what we’re projecting out there. Race fans are the best fans in the world. If you’re a tractor-pull fan, you love everything about tractor-pulls. If you’re a supercross fan, you love everything about supercross, so we want to get in with those enthusiastic fans that love their sport, love their riders, and want to buy the products and services that support their favorite sport. We see that in motocross and supercross. We love our company. I absolutely love GEICO. I know that sounds really cheesy from a guy that gets his paycheck from GEICO, but I honestly wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it. The company is great, and we truly believe that the customer comes first, which is hard to find in the U.S. today – a giant corporation that actually cares.

Especially insurance companies!
Exactly! One that actually cares about people. And we sincerely do. It’s funny because I got a letter the other day, from a fan, through the site, and I wrote him back a really long response. He had some concerns about some of the things we were doing for marketing and advertising, and he had some questions, and I answered them. The first thing he said was, “I didn’t expect a response.” But that’s the GEICO touch. We really try to bring in a personal feel to this thing. We’re not insuring just cars, we’re insuring people – people’s possessions, people’s livelihoods, people’s ways of transporting themselves to work every day. It’s people that get it done, and we have some of the best people in the industry at GEICO, hands down. When you look at the grand scheme of things, we do have a lot of sports sponsorships, and a lot of them you don’t know about yet, but you will.

I’ve seen GEICO on football stadiums above the entrance tunnel to the field and stuff like that. I only really started noticing after you guys jumped into our sport.
We’ve always been there, and we keep growing. We are the fastest growing insurance company in the country, and we’re quickly gaining on our competitors, but they put up a good fight, so we have to think of good and exciting ways to get people to just give us a try. If they just give us a try, we will make them a fan, guaranteed.
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