Smith’s words in the TV spot about his damaged car, “GEICO repaired it within a few days, like new,” touched off the debate. Blumenthal and the Auto Body Association of Connecticut – blaming GEICO, not Smith – say the line will make some people think the insurer does repairs.
“Hopefully, the attorney general will realize that the issue created by the Auto Body Association of Conn. is insignificant and does not warrant the efforts of his good office,” Smith said in an e-mail to The Courant.
Smith, a Manhattan resident and semi-retired electrical contractor, says he understands that GEICO, itself, didn’t fix his car. But he believes he was truthful in the ad because the repair was done through GEICO’s Auto Repair Xpressprogram at a company-approved shop.
If Blumenthal succeeds in his attack, the advertising industry will be vulnerable to “any disenchanted group,” Smith said. “Who knows, it could be that the Duck Farmers Association could attack Aflac insurance company because they are not using a real duck.”
Blumenthal, however, said he still thinks the original commercial is deceptive and that GEICO knew it was, but doesn’t believe Smith was trying to deceive anyone. Blumenthal got GEICO to pull the Smith-Charo ad in Connecticut, and the company has offered to revise it.
“Claims that are untrue and disingenuous or outright deceptive are simply unacceptable, even if made by a well-meaning and sympathetic individual,” Blumenthal said.
Smith, who often writes letters of praise or punishment for service experiences, said GEICO got interested in him for a commercial after he wrote two letters to the company.
“I agreed [to do the ad], providing I tell the truth and I do not wear the head of a gecko,” Smith said, referring to GEICO’s garrulous green spokes-lizard.
The accident happened the week after Smith celebrated the “50,000-mile anniversary” of his beloved 2003 Lincoln Town Car with an overhaul. “I love my car like my own wife,” he said, just like in the commercial.
He was driving in Manhattan when a cab stopped short in front of him, and he rear-ended it. The young man at GEICO who answered Smith’s call suggested that he take his car to one of the repair shops on the company’s preferred list, where an appraiser would see him the next morning.
Some Connecticut body shop owners have complained that GEICO and other insurers use coercive tactics to “steer” customers to preferred shops, and that was the theme of their Sept. 13 press conference attacking the commercial.
Smith doesn’t feel coerced at all, and is enjoying some fame from the commercial. He said he was paid $2,000 to do it and get residuals, so he estimates that he has received $11,000 to $12,000 so far.
Smith described himself as financially “comfortable” – usually buying new cars every two years – and said he would have made the commercial without any pay.
He was flown out to California, all travel expenses paid, and chauffeured around for the filming, which required 20 to 25 takes. He sometimes flubbed his lines despite the “chemistry” he said he had with the “bundle of dynamite” Charo.