'Did you ever see a woman, coming out of New York city with a frog in her hand?'
So sang Marc Bolan. Well, I may not have seen that, but I have seen a bloke walking through downtown Manhattan dressed as a gecko. Unsurprisingly, even for New York in the run up to Christmas ('Happy Holidays!') he seemed to attract a lot of attention.
He also seemed to be held in considerable affection. 'Hey!' said one guy excitedly to his small daughter, 'It's that Gecko Guy!'
I later found out that it was the GEICO Gecko, mascot of a major US insurance company noted for its quirky and popular TV ads (commercials if you're Stateside).
American friends told me that the animated gecko was popular on account of his 'posh British accent.' When I tracked the ads down on You Tube I was amused to find that he sounded more like Del Boy than Little Lord Fontleroy. Would you buy a used car from a guy who sounded like that? So the idea of a slightly disreputable Cockney-barrow-boy (almost) accent being used to promote motor insurance made me chuckle.
Here he is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acCfnwTpdxU
Apparently, the GEICO Gecko originally had a posh accent but it evolved over time – rather like the Queen's – and became more demotic. I wouldn't say he had a 'Gor Blimey, guvnor' accent, but he certainly no longer sounds posh. Nor authentically Cockney come to that. More like a sanitised transatlantic version.
Whatever the case, the ads have been hugely popular and effective for GEICO. It's all about tone of voice. He's supposed to sound reassuring – although he certainly doesn't sound that way to British ears …
'But a gecko – he can be trusted …'
It's long been established that Scottish, Geordie and Yorkshire accents work well in call-centres and in sales. People find them more convincing than brash, Cockney ones. It's all about connotations and associations. Companies like Plusnet the internet and telephone service provider trade on their Yorkshire roots and location. I like ringing them, I must admit. They do a good deal, offer a good service and you always get a cool northerner to speak to on the other end of the line.
I'm not on commission by the way.
These things often play out differently according to location. For instance, whilst Plusnet's flat Yorkshire vowels appeal further afield, you won't often hear Yorkshire accents on radio adverts within Yorkshire itself. Or at least, you didn't when I lived there. People were slightly embarrassed by their own accents and thought that Yorkshire accents 'on't telly' or radio sounded 'common'. Or thick. 'Yorkshire born, Yorkshire bred, strong in t' arm, thick in t'ead.'
That didn't squash a sense of local pride though. Far from it. Yorkshire folk don't suffer from the collective inferiority complex that seems to blight other former heavy-industrial areas I could mention.
'We'll do you proud.'
Sounding reassuring is one thing. Delivering on promises is another. Yorkshire people pride themselves on their plain speaking. What you see is what you get. It's a cliché, but I generally found that to be the case when I lived there.
It's not all about talk. It's about delivering on promises. It's all in the offer after all.