In A Huff About GEICO's Helium Spot

I found myself chuckling absent-mindedly at a GEICO radio spot for about the dozenth time yesterday and then, for about the dozenth time, realized that I shouldn't be. The spot, part of the year-old "Rhetorical Questions" campaign, asks: "Does helium make an opera room less stuffy?"

I don't know if the singer's voice is basso profundo or just plain basso, but it turns into a high-pitched squeal after he takes a hit of of helium. And that's why the commercial works. All of us opera ignorami out here somehow feel just a little bit better about ourselves because the divo is taken down a notch.

There may be legitimate debate about just how dangerous it is to inhale helium, particularly from a balloon. But why would an insurance company, of all enterprises, suggest that inhaling any kind of substance into the body to affect its behavior is a good idea? (Okay, asthma inhalers, excluded.)



Inhaling otherwise legal substances such as glue, shoe polish and aerosol spray, a/k/a huffing, is one of the more insidious forms of substance misuse because adolescents, in particular, are attracted to it.

Helium huffing seems to be an irresistible advertising gimmick. Because of public outcry, FedEx and Toys 'R Us pulled ads that featured helium inhaling years ago. And here's an Alfa Romeo spot from last year (brought to you by UPS) that uses the same opera motif as the GEICO commercial.

When the GEICO ad first broke at the end of the summer, Harvey Weiss, director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, tried to get GEICO to pull the ad. In an "alert" he sent out Sept. 1, Weiss talked about emailing and phoning the company but getting no satisfactory response.

Frankly, I thought at the time that GEICO would soon see the light and just pull the ad. Why does it need it? It has several campaigns with many clever executions, most of which gets its message across quite effectively.

Why risk influencing even a handful of young brains? Even old brains like mine, constantly on guard against the seductive power of the messages that swirl around us, wants to find this spot funny. And it does, time after time lowering my defenses and suspending my reason until I think about it. Kids aren't thinking about it.

4 comments about "In A Huff About GEICO's Helium Spot ".
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  1. William Hughes from Arnold Aerospace, December 21, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.


  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 21, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    There's another couple of spots out there with helium voices, I think it's for Subway. It does show inhaling, but the audience hears it. Besides being a lousy commercial, well, it's annoying creative.

  3. Colleen Creighton from Alliance for Consumer Education, December 21, 2010 at 11:25 a.m.

    Thank you so much for this article. For more information on the dangers of huffing please visit our inhalant prevention site at,

    Take a few minutes to scroll through the message board and blog to see the dangers of huffing.

  4. Cat Meow from Self, January 12, 2011 at 7:42 p.m.

    Stick to advertising because you don't know jack about chemistry. Helium is an inert gas, and provides no more danger than holding your breath.

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