Inside the Grand Prix winning Direct Line campaign that delivered against all measures

Direct Line Group’s ‘We’re On It’ campaign took home the top prize at the Marketing Week Masters last week, after driving long and short term business impact and surpassing the already admirable efforts of its previous brand platform.

Marketers can spend a lifetime in pursuit of effectiveness, deciphering how to put together campaigns that drive measurable and significant business impact. So when a business has a high performing, effective, brand-building campaign under its belt, the last thing you’d expect it to do is to kill it.

Yet, with its five year old ‘The Fixer’ campaign, Direct Line did just that. The campaign was launched in 2013 and had been incredibly powerful for the brand, bringing its entire category back to a conversation about insurance’s fundamental role in people’s lives after the rise of price comparison sites caused significant market disruption.

That role was not just to give people their money back, but to put things right when they go wrong, the campaign expressed. It resulted in five years of growth for the brand after 20 consecutive quarters of decline.

But in 2018, Direct Line made the “utterly terrifying” decision to drop the still effective campaign, replacing it with a new creative platform: ‘We’re On It’. Despite the risk, the decision has proved so impactful over both the long and short term that the brand took home the prestigious Grand Prix award at the Marketing Week Masters. Direct Line, KFC and Camelot win big at the Marketing Week Masters awards

According to brand tribe lead Kerry Chilvers, the business recognised that The Fixer had limitations moving forward and that it needed a new creative platform that was “fit for the future”. Direct Line also wanted to tell stories beyond just the core product, talking instead across the entire portfolio including business insurance.

“We wanted to make sure we were operating not at a product level but at a brand level, so we can talk to a much broader range of customers,” Chilvers explains to Marketing Week. 

Crucially, Chilvers also wanted to move on while the brand was still in a position of strength and The Fixer campaign was performing well, so the business would have the “luxury of time” to make choices without having to compromise

Direct Line took over a year to develop its new campaign, after delivering the brief to creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi in 2019. We’re On It launched in February the following year.

The results

The new platform continues the idea of Direct Line fixing issues. However, rather than demonstrating how it can react to problems, the campaign aims to show the insurer as more proactive.

It features three characters – Bumblebee from Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Donatello and RoboCop – showing them being beaten by Direct Line in an emergency situation including a car accident and office break-in. It brings together all Direct Line’s products for the first time and is built on the insight that no matter the type of customer, people want their insurance company to seek out and solve problems.

In a stroke of bad luck, the campaign launched just three weeks before the UK went into lockdown last year. As such, the brand’s multimedia launch plan, including outdoor ads in busy city centres, transport media and cinema, had to be shelved.Marketing That Matters: The real story behind Direct Line’s transformative ‘Fixer’ campaign

In the end media spend was predominantly focused on TV and social, with media planning executed by MediaCom. Social activity was all about driving awareness of the new communications platform, Direct Line’s head of marketing Wendy Moore says, because The Fixer had been so well known that to move to a new creative platform the brand needed to land the idea “very quickly”.

“So using channels that gave us really big reach and high frequency was really important at the beginning of the campaign”, she says.

Ultimately, Direct Line needed the new campaign to deliver the same return on investment – if not better – as The Fixer did. However, the brand “fully expected [performance] to get worse before it got better”, Chilvers says, particularly once the pandemic took hold.

“We had this mammoth, theme-building, highly recognised campaign, and were about to land something that still had the same brief at its heart but was ultimately a very different creative vehicle,” she says. “We really expected performance to get worse before it got better. That was the message internally that we had managed well and were fully prepared for.”

So the brand was “wholly surprised” by the speed of cut through it experienced on the launch of the campaign.

“The biggest thing for me and the work we’ve done is it’s got to have ambition baked in, and then the bravery to commit to it.

Kerry Chilvers, Direct Line

The brand was looking for success across a balance of commercial performance and brand performance metrics, while also hoping to make sure the campaign worked across all product lines, from car insurance to business. The campaign succeeded across all measures.

In the short term, cost per acquisition dropped by 1.5%, while short term ROI improved by 4%. The brand TV campaign was also found to be 20% more effective at driving quotes and sales than The Fixer, and drove sales across the entire portfolio, despite not featuring specific product messages.

“We have continued to see strong growth across our business portfolio, and that was a small part of our [overall] portfolio which has grown much larger,” Chilvers adds. “The strength of the brand is really helping to build those credentials and help drive performance.”

Among small business audiences, We’re On It has significantly lifted spontaneous awareness by 6 points and first choice consideration by 2 points.

Moore adds that advertising recognition was initially a “really important” metric for Direct Line, as it needed to “undo” six years of equity in the Fixer overnight. And indeed, all three of the creatives delivered recognition significantly above the Kantar norm of 33%. The ad featuring Bumblee scored 62%, Robocop scored 55% and Donatello scored 53%.

The brand also closely tracked performance against three brand associations which “ladder up” to a perception of brand superiority, and improvements were again recorded across all three. Those associations were: ‘are best at solving problems’ (+3.8 points), ‘goes beyond what you would expect from an insurer’ (+4.7 points), and ‘will sort out claims more efficiently than any other insurance providers’ (+4.2 points).

Using a cross media methodology, Direct Line was also able to split out social’s contribution towards its improved brand metrics, with social having a notable impact on motivation and consideration. Moore attributes this success towards the brand using more engaging social creative formats (such as polls) and the use of such recognisable characters.

“Those three characters are all well known, and they’re intergenerational. They’ve been rejuvenated various times over the years, so right through a range of different age groups people recognise them and have really strong feelings towards them,” she says.

Additionally, marketing effectiveness company System1 data reveals that every single ‘We’re On It’ spot beat the very best of the old Winston Wolfe ads on ‘Star Rating’ – a predictive measure of long-term brand growth based on an ad’s creative quality (see table above). In 2021, Direct Line was the number one advertiser in the insurance category, with an average star rating of 2.7 stars.

How to ensure effectiveness

Asked how Direct Line ensured throughout the creative process that its final campaign was going to be effective for the business, Moore says it required a “collaborative” approach between the brand and its agencies. Importantly, its agencies were willing to challenge and ask difficult questions.

“We do have to have some difficult conversations along the way where we don’t always agree, but I think that ultimately has always led to better work and to us all raising the bar,” she says.

Internally, Moore also ensured to engage all the different channel owners and stakeholders throughout. She explains: “We operate in a culture of no surprises. If anyone finds out something in the process that they didn’t know before, that’s quite dangerous. You want all of the people in the organisation behind you when you make a big change like this. You don’t want anyone sitting there and wondering why you’ve spent money on this big new campaign.”

Moore therefore made sure the brand had a “very clear” stakeholder process throughout – even at the brief writing stage – where the marketing team updated senior stakeholders.Direct Line’s Mark Evans: Being customer orientated is a constant work in progress

Direct Line also has a strong internal effectiveness team, Moore adds, which gives the brand “a competitive edge”.

“I do think that some of the best effectiveness practitioners in the industry are working with Direct Line Group and we would be lost without them. They add a really brilliant perspective to what we’re doing and they’re really open minded to doing things differently and helping us understand how we can better measure things in the right way.”

Finally, Moore said the team worked closely with the customer research team throughout the creative development process, getting “pretty forensic” when it came to script testing or stress testing ideas with consumers before the campaign even got into creative development. The brand then continued to test scripts before they went into initial production, and then before they went into final production, “so when we got something into market we had a really good understanding of what it was going to deliver,” she says.

Moving the campaign on

Having seen the campaign so far only go from strength to strength, Direct Line expects to see its performance get even better as the campaign further beds in.

“[We have] a really great platform to build on over the coming years,” says Chilvers. “It’s still in its infancy, we only launched it last year and not necessarily in the best external circumstances.”

“Having been able to make that transition really quickly from Winston into  superheroes gives us that great foundation for us to build on. How do we tell stories in ways that are relevant at different points in time to different customers?”

Chilvers aims to continue setting Direct Line apart from its competitors and the price comparison sites, by letting customers know it can solve their problems better than anybody else.

“Our job is to help solve customer problems, and that’s a rallying cry internally as much as externally,” she adds.

As the business heads into a new year it will continue to commit to its brand, Chilvers promises. The last 12 months have more than proved its worth to the business, and already the marketing team are thinking about what’s going to matter for customers in 2022.

Offering advice for other marketers hoping to build an effective brand campaign, Chilvers says it’s all about “marketing 101”. “Be clear about where you’re at today, what consumers think about your brand, your business challenges, strengths and opportunities,” she says.

It is also “absolutely critical” that the campaign brief is “really tight” and clear on both what the brand is looking for, and what it’s not.

“But the biggest thing for me and the work we’ve done is its got to have ambition baked in. And then the bravery to commit to it,” she adds. “The idea of superheroes wouldn’t have worked if they weren’t the genuine Bumblebee, the real Robocop. A pseudo version of that would never have landed.”

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