Launching a brand:Advalue:SELF-ASSESSMENT

The Inland Revenue charged Leagas Shafron Davis with introducing its self-assessment programme to the UK’s 8.5 million self-employed. How did it manage to overcome ‘the brief from hell’? Jeremy Hook of American Express reviews the strategy (ri

The introduction of self-assessment represents a fundamental change to the tax system. For the taxpayer it means assuming greater responsibility and “ownership” of their tax affairs with, in particular, a greater need to keep to strict deadlines and remain up-to-date.

Research showed that the successful introduction of self-assessment was not going to be easy – people are reluctant to change their behaviour, they hate tax and they view the Revenue as an adversary, set on “catching you out” rather than offering help and advice.

It was justifiably called “the brief from hell” by the Revenue’s head of publicity Helena Rafalowska – it was an unpopular message about an unpopular product from an unpopular organisation.

A previous Revenue campaign to give money away by encouraging people to claim tax owed had not resulted in a huge response.

Despite this, the expectations from the advertising were high. Not only did it have to create awareness, but it also had to ensure that everybody who was affected understood what they needed to do and were motivated to comply. On top of this, the advertising idea had to act as the trigger to drive all other self-assessment communications.

This task was made more challenging by the size and diversity of the target market – nearly 8.5 million people, ranging from professional business people to paper- work-phobic builders.

The solution was Hector – a friendly, approachable cartoon parody of the taxman. His job was to surprise people, to make them sit up and take notice, and to create sufficient warmth and empathy so that people would listen to and take on board the messages about the new system and, as a result, be more likely to comply.

While the idea immediately gained support, research revealed how the smallest detail could affect response. The initial versions were found to lack sufficient charm, they were perceived as patronising and dictatorial – the last thing the Revenue could afford to be. In the end, Hector underwent nearly 30 personality changes until the existing character was born, using the Oscar-winning animators Snowden Fine, coupled with the authority of Sir Alec Guinness’ voice.

Tracking and qualitative research has enabled the campaign to respond to changing circumstances – a capability which was considered particularly important given the need to counteract misleading information and scare stories in the media.

TV and national press were chosen for the launch to provide the necessary impact, stature and infor- mation. Since then, the campaign has branched out to include posters, press ads and radio.

On an initial advertising budget of just over 2m, awareness of self- assessment among the core self-employed market leapt from 58 per cent to 87 per cent, rising steadily thereafter to its current high of 96 per cent after a total spend of 7m. So far, the campaign has outperformed all expectations. However, final success which depends on taxpayers returning their forms on time and all correct, will only be revealed at the end of the year.


Head of publicity: helena rafalowska


Account director: susanna hailstone

Account planner: collette du toit

Account manager: kate alexander

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