Love them or hate them, TV adverts for insurers and aggregators are more creative than ever before. But there is much more potential to be tapped

A Russian meerket, an Italian tenor, a nodding dog, a Plymouth football fan, and a price-conscious Goth are just some of the characters conjured up by insurance marketing and advertising teams in the latest round of attempts to reach consumers through television advertising.

If the aim is to be talked about and remembered, some campaigns have certainly achieved it. Entire Direct Marketing’s creative director, Ian Bates, feels that Comparethemarket’s meerkat advert is one of them. “Out of all the advertising out there at the moment, it would rank very high on recall and likeability.”

Brand experts are divided on whether insurance is attracting the advertising industry’s highest standards. For Simon Middleton of Brandstrategyguru.com, Comparethemarket’s meerkat campaign represented a stage of evolution in insurance advertising. “To its credit, [the ad] was completely different to all the others and it was amusing, engaging and memorable because it was different. I think they did that quite well from the point of view of getting attention.”

In general, however, Middleton is unimpressed with the general standard of industry campaigns, including those used by aggregators in recent months. “The advertising is poor, dull, predictable, with a terrible tendency [for campaigns] to copy one another.”

Ad agency CMW’s managing director, Martin Nieri, believes the standard for insurance advertising is very high, enough to cause outright war among the brands. “It seems to me that we are in an advertising battleground at the moment. A lot of insurance companies, especially the aggregators, seem to be monopolising the space on television. Within the advertising industry, agencies are clamouring to get those brands under their belts.”

The advertising has evolved, says Nieri, because insurance companies have found a way to break free from the monotony of more traditional ways of selling. “They are now able to express themselves and give their brand a voice and personality to stand out in a marketplace that is very crowded.”

To date, Comparethemarket has attracted just over 570,000 Facebook fans for its off-the-wall Comparethemeerkat campaign. Facebook fan clubs have also jumped up for Churchill’s dog, with the biggest pulling in just under 400 fans. Churchill Insurance’s head of campaigns, Matt Owen, says: “The Churchill brand has gone from strength to strength. Our adverts are enjoyed by the public and consistently top [Marketing magazine’s] Adwatch chart.”

But some industry commentators warn that the public may soon tire of adverts like Churchill’s dog. Middleton admits he is torn over the icon. “When [the dog] first arrived it was very superficial, but it does have a certain charm. It has managed to give off a trustworthy feeling.”

However, he has doubts about Churchill’s latest ads featuring television presenter Melanie Sykes. “Much as I like Melanie Sykes, I can’t really see the point in her being there. They are not adding very much or telling us something new.”

The need to stand out from the crowd

Not all characters created for adverts reach the British public’s hearts like the dog and the meerkat. At the time of writing, Gocompare’s opera singer has just 36 fans in the Facebook group “Gocompare opera singer fan club”.

But the aggregator says that the advert has worked for them. “Since our advertising campaign launched on 19 August, we have seen a 30% increase in brand impressions. If you look at our quote volumes for car insurance, we have seen a 20% increase over and above the usual seasonal increase in August and September,” a spokesman for Gocompare.com says.

Advertising industry commentators, however, feel that Gocompare’s ad was merely a reaction to Comparethemarket’s meerkat campaign. “Comparethemarket set the benchmark. They delivered personality to an aggregator business, which no one else has done yet, and the Gocompare campaign was a kneejerk reaction,” Nieri says.

Gocompare chief executive Helen Parsons defends its campaign. “The Comparethemarket campaign is great. Our brief was never to copy it. It was to come up with something that was about Gocompare. If you look at our ads separately, there are no similarities.”

Swiftcover’s advert featuring the gyrating Iggy Pop has also come in for criticism. There is no Facebook fan group for it, but 10 Facebook “hate” groups, including one with 60 members called “Who else hates the Swiftcover advert with Iggy Pop?”. Swiftcover, part of the AXA Group, also made the mistake of refusing to insure musicians under its motor policy despite the fact that Iggy was promoting its product. It has changed its policy following complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.

“We appreciate that some musicians were disappointed that they could not get ‘swiftcovered’, so we are now one of the few insurers that actually insures musicians,” swiftcover.com’s marketing director Tina Shortle says.

Many of the ads have achieved what marketing professionals seek to do: they have entered public consciousness and memory. Churchill’s “Oh yes” catchphrase has been picked up and the meerkat’s “simples” squeak has caught on among children and adults.

Yet many aggregator ads remain flawed, say commentators, partly because they are trying to outdo each other rather than speak to the consumer. “If one insurance aggregator is doing something comical, another one tries to do the same,” Middleton says. He argues that insurers and aggregators should address the consumer as a grown-up. He singles out Barclays’ Samuel L Jackson campaign in 2002 to 2004. “They were very strange and enigmatic. They looked fabulous and they were cleverly, creatively written.”

Middleton believes that the next insurer or aggregator who gets the message and balance right will stand out from the crowd. “There is a really powerful opportunity for someone to put brand distance between themselves and everybody else. If any one of those advertisers really made something creative, intelligent, thought-provoking, something genuinely about brand difference, then it would stand out a mile.” IT

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