Churchill dog to tread the boards

Has Churchill insurance gone barking mad? The brand has announced that its famous dog mascot is to be extended into pantomimes this Christmas and is estimated to reach as many as 1.5 million Brits. Usually appearing in TV ads, puppets of the pooch will now appear on stage around the UK.

Churchill in Panto

While this may seem like a odd move at first glance, it may well pay off. In last week’s cover story, Marketing Week predicted that there was a trend for brands to move into the live performance space. Churchill, it appears, got the memo. The insurance company has agreed with live shows business Qdos Entertainment that puppets of its character will appear in 22 seasonal pantos around Britain.

Churchill puppets are being created especially for the performances, along with bespoke scripts that will highlight the ads’ famous catchphrase – “Oh Yes! Oh No!”. The puppets will appear alongside celebrities of the world of TV, such as Doctor Who actor John Barrowman and former Eastenders personality Shane Ritchie.

“We wanted to find ways of moving Churchill outside his traditional ads,” explains Peter Deane, head of marketing at the brand. “Pantomime is very traditional, very British and very family orientated. That fits perfectly with the profile of our brand.”

The dog – or rather, his voiceover – will introduce each panto, asking people to turn off their phones and a scene will feature where he can use the famous “Oh Yes! Oh No!” line. He will also be “blogging from backstage” where he will be answering questions in the yes-and-no format about what he sees and who he meets there.

While Churchill may be having fun finding new ways to greet its target customers, will people object to being subjected to marketing during their panto experience? Deane thinks not. “People like the character on TV. And we’re not trying to sell them insurance with him. We’re simply having a bit of fun.”

With this in mind, there will be no leafleting of theatre guests with insurance information. The more traditional advertising will be kept to an ad in the programme and a pawprint motif on children’s goodie bags. Some Churchill dog merchandise, such as soft toys, will be available, but no mention of the corporate presence behind the character.

The element of humour involved in putting the Churchill dog into pantomimes is important to the whole brand’s strategy, suggests Deane. “We’ve been working really hard to put humour into our adverts over the last years. It gives him some personality.”

The initiative will be supported by a direct mail campaign bearing “special offers” in the local areas where pantomimes are due to be put on. Deane says that these will not only offer people insurance but special two-for-one pantomime deals too.

Measuring the activity will be slightly more tricky. Deane says that the company always ensures it tracks all its branding activities and this will include attempting to measure any sales uplift during or after the Christmas season, although he acknowledges: “Admittedly, it’s harder to measure this type of thing!”

Instead, the company claims it will be pleased to see how the experiment goes. If it proves to be a good fit for the brand, the company may well take it further next year. Deane reveals that the marketing team are considering how to “extend him into other ‘best of British’ activities” although these are still in the planning stage.

While Churchill is not the first advertising character aiming to transcend his medium, it’s an interesting move. The Monkey character was able to segue from his original place in ITV Digital marketing to become a soft toy and later promote PG Tips. The current campaign from Compare the Market has its fluffy meercat characters popping up across TV and online; it would be no surprise to see merchandise appearing soon too.

Deane proclaims himself a big fan of the way that Compare the Market’s meercat ad campaign has “really differentiated the brand. It’s been really well developed. It’s done a great job of creating personality in the aggregator market. Really great brand saliency.”

He hopes that Churchill’s move onto the stage will prove just as popular. Whether the initiative proves rewarding for Churchill’s brand awareness is still to be shown, but it seems clear that Deane is hoping the show will go on. He confesses: “We hope to repeat it again next year if it works out.”

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