Show the assets behind the cloak

A long reputation – it opened in 1815 – and iconic branding have kept Scottish Widows a leader in the pensions market

P25_Scottish_WidowsScottish Widows, the Lloyds TSB-owned pensions and investments provider, is as well known for its brand icon – the black-clad widow – as its parent company is for its galloping horse.

Yet the Widow was only introduced as a “living logo” in 1986, in the “Looking Good” ad campaign directed by David Bailey, as part of a radical marketing overhaul by the then mutual society.

The strength of the Scottish Widows brand owes a lot to that review of its business and company values. In the mid-1980s there were over 120 companies competing in the long-term savings market, ten of which had the word Scottish in their name. But the widow caught the public’s imagination.

Since 1986 there have been three separate widows, who remain the cornerstone of the brand’s advertising. So powerful is the branding that even an Olympic-themed ad to support its sponsorship of London 2012 included the icon.

One rival financial services marketer points to the power of the brand through its icon, but warns of the “inherent danger” of using her as an advertising shortcut leading to underinvestment elsewhere.

“Scottish Widows must beware overusing the widow at the expense of talking about the brand’s values and products,” he says. “And in the long term having such a seminal icon associated with your business could harm future innovation or creativity.” However, he says dropping the widow at this point would be “ludicrous”.

Another rival points to the customer and brand marketing director post vacated this month by Mike Hoban, a former Barclaycard and BA marketer. He says that whoever inherits the role will find much of its marketing strategy already in place, at least up to 2012, when its association with the London Olympics ends. He or she will also be tasked with building the brand’s association with the retirement market.

Scottish Widows head of brand management Stuart Green says the brand’s premise revolves around “preparing for the future”, underpinning its strapline “preparation is everything”. He says that although it is the UK’s leading pensions provider, and much of its product message concentrates on this, its range of products also include investments, short-term savings, property and protection products.

However, it faces renewed competition from rivals also keen to dominate the pensions market. In October last year Prudential overhauled its strategy following its sale of “youth” credit card brand Egg, in order to concentrate on its core pensions market. It scrapped its “Man from the Pru” slogan in favour of “Retirement has more potential with Prudential” as part of that rethink (MW October 4, 2007).

Green says that Scottish Widows’ £8m above-the-line investment will remain steady or increase, as it aims to reassure customers through a period of economic uncertainty. “Any company needs to invest in their advertising and communications with customers – even more so when times are harder for our customers. They need to know that we’re here,” he says.

The company is also hoping its “trusted brand” status and historic roots – it was founded in 1815 as Scotland’s first mutual life office – will prove a draw for customers who increasingly look for trust and service during trying financial times.

Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society opened its doors around the time of the Napoleonic Wars following concern around the potential poverty of widows, sisters and other female relatives of soldiers and sailors killed.

In 1995 it launched Scottish Widows Bank, and its Scottish Widows Investment Partnership manages £92.5bn-worth of client funds. Amid a rush of demutualisation among mutual societies, it sold itself to Lloyds TSB in 2000, becoming a standalone brand but one with the ability to cross-promote its products and expertise with the group. 

  • Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society opened in 1815 as Scotland’s first mutual life office
  • In 1824 a policy of assurance was issued to the novelist Sir Walter Scott v Scottish Widows Bank was launched in 1995 and offers a range of savings, loans and mortgage products
  • Scottish Widows demutualised and became part of the Lloyds TSB group in March 2000 
  • The ‘Scottish Widow’ first appeared in a TV ad directed by David Bailey in 1986. There have been three widows to date 
  • Scottish Widows Investment Partnership manages £92.5bn of client funds.

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