Direct Line pays price of challenge

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The Independent Online
You wouldn't want to be the advertising man who thought of this one. A multi-million pound television and newspaper campaign by the Direct Line financial services company was launched this week challenging other mortgage lenders to answer four questions about their service. Now the campaign has backfired and Direct Line is having to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to promote one of its rivals who can indeed say "yes" to the questions.

First Direct, the telephone bank owned by the Midland Bank, took up the so-called Direct Line Challenge that has been running on television and in full-page advertisements in the national press all week.

Direct Line offered to allow any of its rivals who could match it on four customer service points to appear in its television commercials.

The advertisements ran last night in some of television's most expensive airtime, including the Champions League Final and News at Ten on ITV and Friends and ER on Channel Four. Advertising industry air-time buyers estimate First Direct received promotion worth at least pounds 260,000.

"It looks as if Direct Line didn't do their homework very well," said a spokeswoman for First Direct. "It was a strange challenge because we've been saying yes to all four questions for years."

First Direct wanted to use the free advertisement to set four challenges to Direct Line - including matching their open on Christmas Day policy - but was limited to saying yes to each of Direct Line's four questions.

Direct Line recorded the advertisement starring a First Direct spokesman yesterday morn- ing and was putting a brave face on the debacle. "We have no qualms at all about them sharing our airtime," said a spokeswoman. "This is a blow for clarity in a confused market."

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