“It’s funny because it’s true,” is a common adage following the telling of many jokes. The familiarity of the characters in the latest Geico commercial, teenage girls, are likely to incite a lot of snickering for this very reason. Of course, despite these laughs that Geico hopes for (and likely will get), I’m worried about the message the commercial really sends.
In this particular spot, Geico abandons its familiar gecko spokesman in favor of a trio of three girls, portrayed as the “popular” crowd, who follow around a man who has decided that the best way for him to save money (given how expensive his car insurance is) is to not eat. And what’s the best way to stop yourself from eating? Why, shame, of course!
Enter the stars of the new commercial. As a man explains at the outset, he had the popular girls from the local middle school follow him around and comment on everything he eats. The next thirty seconds offer up a sequence of him getting disdainful looks from the girls and the withering repetition of “Ew,” “Seriously?” and “So gross,” as he gets a sandwich from his refrigerator, has breakfast at a restaurant, and finally, eats a cheeseburger one night in his car.
As we watch him second-guess his food choices, push the food aside, and look more than a bit defeated, during the last incident we see him finally cave, finishing the girls’ trademark “Ew/Seriously?/So gross” mantra himself, and letting their assessment prompt him to toss his burger back into his bag.
In this last frame, the girls are actually photographing him while he eats, capturing this “grossness” – perhaps to use as a reminder or a cautionary tale for others who may decide to… eat?
So, what do we take away from this? Eating is shameful, embarrassing, and gross, and that message is true whether you’re at home, at a restaurant, or in your car.
But you know what else worries me? The trigger element of this commercial. Girls who have suffered from eating disorders and are in the process of healing, as well as girls who are just beginning to experiment with dieting, see this and think – despite Geico’s intent to frame it as funny – that their thoughts about eating being disgusting, shameful, and gross are correct. It totally normalizes the disordered eating thoughts that many girls are already socialized to have.
“Hey, a national commercial thinks these kinds of thoughts about food and eating is routine enough that it must be pretty acceptable – I was right, eating IS gross.” I can definitely see how someone would internalize that message after watching this commercial.
Importantly, the ad also reminds viewers that these are the popular girls. This adds a lot of extra significance, and it’s at the root of the shaming issue. If the popular girls – the girls that others may try to imitate and look to as social leaders – think that you eating breakfast is gross, then to be accepted by the popular girls, you’d better not eat.
Another source of uneasiness was that I couldn’t stop this nagging feeling that it was sparking the urge for the guy to eat secretly to avoid judgment and shame, just adding to the overall sense of guilt around eating that permeates this ad.
In short – even if they’re trying to be funny, Geico should stick to the gecko. I’m much more inclined to like a company if their spokesman is a little animal than if it’s telling me I’m so gross for having a slice of cake.