I watch a lot of youtube. Recently, since my computer is quite old and out of date I can’t update a lot of my software and this includes my internet browser. As a result, I can’t use adblock any more, and watching youtube has reintroduced me to all manner of innocuous 15 second advertisements. A good number of these ads are for Geico and feature their talking pig spokes-animal, Maxwell. At first, I would just overlook these preload videos or mute the sound. But I started to look at them a little bit more closely as of late – mostly because of their growing frequency in my viewing. There’s something strangely suggestive in their presentation, and specifically in the ways in which they treat the user/consumer of their product as a transient non-human object.
I don’t have car insurance, and have never owned a car. I learned to drive stick shift on a 1983 gray, boxy, beautiful volvo station wagon. I loved driving that car. It’s six-cylinder engine was a powerhouse, and the way it would cruise down hills when put out of gear is a warm memory that I’ll carry with me for many years. I drove the hell out of that car, often over extending the transmission as traffic lights turned from red to green, jumping gears from first to third to impress my friends. I heard once that Volvos made before 1985 were incredibly heavy and unbelievably sturdy due to the fact that they were made from recycled tank parts. I have no evidence to support this rumor, but driving that car certainly made me think it was true. Still in all, I didn’t own the Volvo, and as a teenager I didn’t pay my portion of the Geico insurance I had as part of my parents plan.
Since then, I haven’t had a car, and haven’t had insurance. Although I have other monthly bills, and have recently taken on (semi)regular health-insurance, I’ve never quite known what the affect of owning car insurance feels like. In some ways not being the target audience or market of these Geico ads has made me think about the context of how these ads might be appealing – or else consider the overall affect of their presentation. I’m beginning to speculate that the appeal is more than identifying with the base-line humor of a talking pig spreading the gospel of Geico’s mobile app. Instead, I started seeing how Maxwell serves as a symbolic substitute for the kind of consumer that would best benefit from Geico’s services. One could speculate how/why whatever ad agency thought it’d be a good idea to suggest that Geico’s customers were equivalent to farm animals, but I think the more important question revolves around the scenarios in which the pig finds itself.
Over the series of ads we find the spokes-animal in a variety of different contexts that allude to the pig’s upper-middle-class life style. We find Maxwell sitting comfortably in the business class sections of an airplane, pool-side on vacation, doing yoga during the day, and enjoying casual car rides through suburban tree-lined streets. All these locations become a series of snapshots of a life-style that Geico affords (or promises). Though each scenario on its own serves as a kind of one-liner, together they create a portrait of an animal whose thrifty savings on car insurance have added up to a life of leisure. The synecdoche of Geico’s product for middle-class ideals is pushed through the way the ads employ a film strategy that Deleuze has called any-space-whatever.
This filmic strategy – most notably used by Ozu and Bresson – treats the space of a scene as a site of disposable “virtual conjunction.” The location, whether airplane or resort hotel, is a subtle and strange location of specific anonymity. It is not a universal space, but instead a “singular space, which has merely lost its homogeneity, that is, the principle of its metric relations or the connection of its own parts.” Although the site itself is a transient location – or one of relative insignificance – its meaning has been radically redefined to have particular affect. The site becomes a “potentiality” according to Deleuze. That potentiality of creating affective meaning is not created in the isolated location itself, but in the aggregate of locations that the pig traverses. In this way, the meaning and significance of the character is only fully portrayed when we – as audiences and affected-individuals – assemble the parts. The collective montage of Maxwell’s life – once compiled – is an aspirational desire of the consumer.
As an individual so far removed from being a potential Geico customer, the way that Maxwell’s identity has been shaped by its consumer-knowledge over a series of any-place-whatever scenarios to be a telling and fascinating experiment in moving-image semiotics. This is particularly the case since the affect of driving itself seems all but lost in these ads (except in early appearances). The vivid memory of careening down hills and skipping gears of my old Volvo seem in direct opposition to the methodology of ads designed to accommodate an anthropomorphic transient traveler.