Fighting for cover

The insurance market has undergone rapid change during the past five years, with direct sales revolutionising the way the industry operates. George Boyter examines the campaigns – both DRTV and response-driven press ads – of the top operators,

Insurance should matter to me. But can any advertiser make me care enough to act?

Home and motor is the great insurance battleground, where the big money is spent. So I ought to find plenty of companies worthy of my money on TV.

Prospero Insurance’s ads – through McCann-Erickson (Manchester) – won’t get my premium. It’s not a good idea to use the loss adjuster as presenter. And everyone knows the ranks of smiling girls at computers don’t really take your call – they’re far too busy appearing in clichéd commercials.

Then there’s the wall-to-wall voiceover. A confusing policy name. A proposition so deeply buried you’d have to go pot-holing to find it. And an endline with all the charisma of John Major’s sock drawer: “Our policy is to reward your care.” Eh?

I don’t want to know about insurance – it’s all much the same – but I do want to know what it can do for me. So it’s the advertiser who understands me, times and targets its message, and rewards me with some entertainment, which will win my money.

How about Frizzell? Here’s a good start. And a cracking finish – Stirling Moss taking the chequered flag at Aintree in 1957. I can remember that – hula hoops, Harold MacMillan, my mum making the dinner, dad coming home.

All very warm and reassuring. And why not? That’s how the concept of insurance should make me feel. It has cleverly targeted my generation now that we’ve got our own precious things to protect and the company is also telling me it has been around for yonks, which I didn’t know.

So there are already several messages to assimilate. Too many? I don’t think so. This campaign – from BMP DDB Needham – is for the advertising literate individual and all aspects of the work support the proposition: “We’ll make sure you never want to leave.”

But is it enough to make me want to buy? Well, no. Much as I love the music and admire the ambition and execution of this ad, it has been asked to do too much to be a successful response generator. The proposition isn’t strong enough to make me leap for the phone even if I did catch the phone number. Next.

Dee-diddle-e-di-dee-di-dee-di-dee. It’s Direct Line of course. Instantly recognisable, the R2D2 phone begs to be picked up like a pet. Has there ever been a more potent branding device?

It could easily become a crutch to carry campaigns but all credit to agency TBWA.

It has shown real understanding of the customer, developed a clear proposition, found an appropriate and entertaining treatment to support it and used a reassuring tone of voice to carry the message. So it has won the battle even before the cavalry arrives on the back of the red phone.

Plenty of time to get the telephone number as you’d expect – although I’m surprised the opportunity to leave the number on from the moment the phone appears was either missed or rejected. But that’s nit-picking.

Here’s an advertiser who stands head and shoulders above its rivals in its sector. Other insurance companies must wish their agency could come up with such strong, long-lasting campaign ideas and properties. And agencies must wish they could create advertising that works as hard at branding as it does at generating response at the same time.

So now I can rest assured about leaving the TV plugged in all night, what about my penis extension?

The best car insurance I ever had was a defensive driving course taken five years ago. My annual shunt up the rear of some poor old lady has gone, for good. Well, I never really enjoyed the experience.In recent years this market has been shaken up by the arrival of new players, some from outside these shores. With new techniques, principally direct selling, they’ve gone for the soft paunchy underbelly. Or, alternatively, the reassuring presence of an extra spare tyre.

The over-fifties, the no claims bonus savers, the Allegro Owners Club, the Vanden Plas Sub Section of the AOC. If you still bring out your cherished Paddy Hopkirk Rally jacket for special occasions but only if it’s not raining, you have been right royally niched.

Those who need insurance least are the most profitable, and so targeted most. If a GTI is to die for, the insurance companies killed it stone dead. Loyalty is out, price is paramount and every wannabe Direct Line wants to talk to you direct and tell you how much you could save.

So what is in the papers? Guardian Direct – whose ad comes from TMD Direct – is positively slavering with friendly intentions. A stand-in for one half of Smashy & Nicey is blabbering into a mike for some obscure reason. How is he going to get through to me? The art director has taken refuge in designing little gearshift patterns to fit into the quotation marks. And wait a minute, there’s an owl talking at me too. What a hoot – not. Laborious. Desperate.

Another bird vying for attention is Eagle Star Direct. It’s the same proposition as the previous ad without the drivel. At least agency O&M had the good sense to strip away all but the essentials, knowing that anyone with a life just wants to spend as little time on this subject, and save as much money, as possible.

But it’s really an unsubstantiated claim with nothing to distinguish it from any other bird on the wire. I would like to save on my motor insurance but it is the company that promises some extra value over and above that which will earn its seed.

So who takes the laurels? Direct Line, as sure as Peter Woods takes another few million quid for having started it.

The company knows I’m busy so it keeps to the point. It understands that I want a competitive price but I need the reassurance that I’ll be looked after. It makes me feel valued. It is bold with the proposition and sticks it in the headline. The minimal copy gives me impressive substantiation. It gives me a number for my area. And of course it’s instantly recognisable, thanks to the friendly red phone.

It’s a lesson to us all. The deceptively simple can be devastatingly powerful, and is still the best way to build your business in today’s competitive environment.

And ultimately, if you are a client, good advertising is the best insurance you can have. Mind how you go.

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