Aleksandr Orlov, a supposedly rich business mogul – who also happens to be a meerkat – currently appears in a TV ad sporting a red dressing gown and a strong Russian accent.
The humorous adverts are based on the fictional supposition that people are mistakenly going to his website, Comparethemeerkat.com, looking for car insurance advice. Orlov wishes to correct this error and send them to the more appropriate Comparethemarket.com site.
This cheeky animal character, created by VCCP for comparison site Comparethemarket.com has helped the brand gain ground in the crowded comparison market on leaders Moneysupermarket.com, Confused.com and GoCompare.com.
Comparethemarket.com targets every consumer who insures a car in the knowledge that for its audience, car insurance has always been a notoriously uninteresting subject, a necessary inconvenience required by law.
“What we were trying to achieve was simple,” explains Mark Vile, marketing director at Comparethemarket.com. “We needed to be remembered, create top-of-mind awareness with consumers and fully engage them.”
The brand was operating in a sphere where all communications from comparison sites were perceived to be not just the same but hugely irritating. The trend was to use images of computer screens and cars with star-shaped flashes containing price-saving claims. Despite being a new category and offering huge benefits to the consumer in the form of 300 insurance prices, delivered speedily, it was not a place people enjoyed spending time.
With a long brand name like Comparethemarket.com, getting people to remember the word “market” when in front of their computer was proving the difference between business success and failure. The creative solution to this challenge was deceptively simple: a play on the words “market” and “meerkat” as a mechanism for helping people to remember the brand name and giving them an emotional connection to it.
The driving force behind the Meerkat campaign was that Comparethemarket.com’s business model did not allow it to spend enough to make itself heard above the noise of its competition. In a category where market share was determined by media spend, it was fourth in a category of four. Crucially, it was being outspent on generic Google search terms, such as “car insurance” and “compare insurance”. To succeed, it had to get more people to type its cumbersome brand name into Google.
The resulting innovation, delivered by agency VCCP, was threefold: it outmanoeuvred competitors in a crowded market by recognising the power of creating love for a brand; it used a search-led strategy that got people to both search Comparethemarket.com out by name and by using key words around the meerkat campaign, so reducing marketing costs; and it was a strategy that placed social media at the heart of the campaign, making Aleksandr Orlov a talking point.
Comparethemarket.com isn’t the first brand associated with insurance to use a character mascot. Churchill uses the nodding toy dog. However, what was really groundbreaking about Comparethemarket.com was its making the character a brand icon that could help it extend beyond television into the social media sphere. The brand used the clever concept of Aleksandr becoming “famous” in TV ads telling viewers the difference between his own fictional website and real-life car insurance site. This artificial concept of fame then became the seemingly valid reason to put him in the social media environment.
“We wanted social media to be the ’glue’ that integrated the above-the-line and digital aspects of the campaign,” says VCCP planner George Everett. “So it was critical that Facebook and Twitter were integral to the campaign and not a media bolt-on.”
The creative has been exploited across several platforms and caused a cost-effective stir for the brand. Facebook is Aleksandr’s community hub, a place for his fans to engage, create and connect. Comparethemarket.com uses this space as other brands use blogs. It uploads content, pictures, videos and notes on a weekly basis. It also capitalises on Facebook to encourage consumers to upload their own meerkat suggestions, photos and ideas for new marketing launches such as toys or ringtones.
Aleksandr was the first UK advertising character to have his own Twitter account. The character is an active and engaged participant in the Twittersphere and also has a commitment to answering specific questions that his fans tweet him. Fans can appear on his testimonials web page and he has 700,000 friends on Facebook and 25,000 followers on Twitter.
Website traffic increases demonstrate the value of the Meerkat campaign and Comparethemarket.com has seen a 400% uplift in visits since the campaign launch in January 2009. Return on investment for this initiative can be proven by robust figures: the brand’s market share has tripled; quote figures have increased by 80% and the cost per quote has reduced by 73%.
“We have seen a huge increase in visits year on year but it is probably some of the unforeseen benefits, such as our 700,000 fans on Facebook and the huge popularity of the Aleksandr iPhone app we created, that has really been satisfying,” says Vile. “The campaign has done wonders for our brand awareness and has also translated into business benefits.”
In order to make a breakthrough, we realised it was better to put the campaign on an emotional rather than a rational platform. It works better in this price comparison space to get your name remembered than to claim product superiority. That way, people will type your name into a search engine like Google.
At the time, everyone else was spending millions on rational differentiators and ending up cancelling each other out. Advertising in this sector was repressive and boring. We understood the value of the word “market” and realised that it was a name that we could own. The leap we then made was to “meerkat”, which was what we could have fun with.
After developing the character of Aleksandr the Meerkat and giving him a personality, the truly innovative part was treating him as a celebrity. Just like a person with a high profile like Alan Sugar or David Beckham, we took him into the channels where famous people would operate. He was on Facebook, Twitter and had his own website. The really clever aspect was taking the traditional idea of a mnemonic and moving that on with modern media channels to exploit those opportunities and bring the character to life.
Highlighted innovators: George Everett, planner at VCCP, and Mark Vile, marketing director at Comparethemarket.com