Let’s get straight to some of the most compelling trivia about Randy Belcher, who in late November was named Strategic America’s executive creative director.

He co-created the Geico gecko.

“I think I’m the poster child for sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Belcher said. “I’m a writer. My partner [at Martin Agency], Ken Spear, was the art director. I remember the time we were just sitting around thinking, ‘What’s the dumbest mascot we can come up with?’ because everyone had a mascot.”

The two were working the Geico account in the 1990s, which could have been death because — in their view but certainly not that of our friends in Des Moines’ powerful financial industry — insurance is dull. 

“Geico was very irreverent from the very beginning, and we used to make fun of the name,” Belcher said. “One day, we just brainstormed, what was the dumbest thing we could come up with? And we came up with the gecko because it didn’t make any sense whatsoever. What is an insurance company doing with this lizard as a spokesperson?”

The gecko worked. “It just caught fire,” Belcher said. 

We’ll get more into the strategy behind comedy in insurance later. But let’s just say Belcher has been around. He has represented Bristol-Myers Squibb, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Sprint, ADT, AAA and many other brands, many of them sans mascots. He’s been at this for 30 years. After 18 years at advertising agency Doner, working largely out of Detroit, he was ready for a new challenge. 

He saw a listing for the Strategic America position and eventually landed in Des Moines, which he loves. We asked him about his work.  

What attracted you to this job? 

One of the things that attracted me was in Detroit, we had seven or eight creative directors. Here, I’m the only one. 

Did you come straight to Strategic America from Doner?

I took a little time off. I retired from Doner. I was there for 18 years. It’s just enough. I had a great time. I loved the people and the agency. I worked on a lot of interesting accounts. But after 18 years everything was just, you know, getting a little old. I decided I wanted a new adventure. I like the Midwest. One day I found the Strategic America position on Indeed.com. 

They were looking for a creative director, and I was just struck by all the similarities [to my previous work]. I did a ton of health care, I did direct marketing, I did a lot of home products. That’s what Strategic America does. Once I talked to them, they struck me as a very ambitious agency, which was important to me, someone who wanted to grow and win new business. They had a lot of talented people here. And, you know, they were Iowa nice. So, you know, it seemed like it was a good fit. Des Moines was a destination for me. I called Des Moines like a little Austin. People kind of looked at me like I’m crazy, but there’s a quirkiness to the city that I think is appealing and interesting. 

What would you say you do here?

I’m responsible for owning the brands in the building. Obviously this is a very collaborative industry. So you work with account executives, you work with a number of people, but creatively I’m responsible for how the brands in the building express themselves. 

When you worked on the Geico gecko, it was part of an unusual play to use comedy in insurance advertising, right? 

I remember some early drawings of the gecko. And there’s so many crazy myths about the creation of the gecko. There’s one crazy myth that a client drew it on a napkin one day in a focus group, you know, and that could not be further from the truth. 

A lot of people turned down Geico within the agency because they didn’t want to deal with ugly things like 800 numbers and stuff like that. That was considered inelegant at the time. But I thought it was a great challenge. And I volunteered to work on it. 

Geico has stayed true to a lot of the stuff that we pitched them. And this was the early ’90s, you know. We told them to do comedy, because insurance is very boring, and nobody really wants to hear about it. We pitched them the idea that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more. That was all you ever needed to know about insurance. And that would kind of free them up to do some other things with their commercials.

They almost have a carpet-bombing strategy with their media. They constantly needed fresh material. So the gecko was just one of six or seven spots we happened to make at a particular time, but it just caught fire. People kept saying, “He’s so cute. I like him.” So we started doing more work with him. 

The funniest one we ever did was when you just heard a phone ringing and you heard a shower in the background. And the phone was ringing, ringing, ringing. And all of a sudden popped up this gecko with this white towel around his head and says, “Stop calling me!” It was just very funny.

How are you wired? 

I am a pretty high-energy person. I don’t like bureaucracy. I like to work with people directly. I don’t send email. I go see them directly. I think it’s important to be brutally honest without being brutal. There isn’t a lot I haven’t seen. 

Do you show anger? 

Yes, but I try not to.

What do you do outside of work?

I need a hobby. I’m a writer, so I spend a lot of weekends writing. I will spend a lot of time thinking. I’m a movie buff. I like history. I read real histories. I like the Fleur Cinema. I like football. I change teams every year — Kansas City, the Rams. I played tennis in high school. I love the drama in sports. n