Claire Beale on Advertising: Worried insurers compare meerkat market


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The Independent Online

Aleksandr Orlov has 536,542 fans on Facebook; probably more by the time you read this. At least 24,000 Tweeters are following him on Twitter. He has had more than 50 proposals of marriage and nearly 1,000 people have signed his petition to get the word "seemples" (simple) into the Oxford English Dictionary.

In eight short months, the British public has adopted the dapper Russian meerkat Aleksandr and his beautifully ridiculous "comperthemeerkat" website. Even better: this wave of affection has transformed the fortunes of the price-comparison website which is, after all, paying for the whole caboodle.

So it is no surprise that Aleksandr has sent shockwaves through the price comparison website market. There is now a mad scramble among rivals to rethink their marketing strategies. has just launched a new television advertising campaign to rebuild its profile. Learning from Aleksandr, it too has tried to create a standout frontman for its brand and its new campaign stars the opera-singing "Gio Compario". Hmmm.

Meanwhile, has called a review of its advertising and has decided to ditch its execrable ads starring Peter Jones from Dragon's Den. It too is holding a pitch to find a new creative solution.

All of this is welcome news for television viewers. The price comparison sites spend millions of pounds buying bucket loads of airtime and then filling it with some of the blandest, hammiest ads on the box. Now that Alexsandr has them all held to ransom, panic is setting in. Appealing to our penny-pinching instincts with cheap and nasty advertising is no longer good enough. There might be a recession on but we are not buying advertising tat any more. Alexsandr has shown the price-comparison market can appeal to our purses with élan.

But, fair's fair, before Alexsandr it did seem like this was one product category that it was simply impossible to do good creative work for. Car insurance aggregator websites: hardly the sort of creative brief that gets an agency slavering. All the brands have similar names, similar propositions and market share has largely been determined by how much money each brand spent on advertising.

So how could Comparethemarket break through the clutter? It was the smallest of the big four sites, was one of the last into the market, with a name and a proposition that gave it no real point of difference. VCCP knew it would need to create some advertising magic. The success of Admiral and the Churchill nodding dog proved that insurance market advertising thrived on strong brand icons. But the price-comparison websites seemed to have been so convinced that their revolutionary offerings would dazzle consumers they hadn't bothered to invest in real brand personalities.

Then there was the Google issue. Understanding how consumers search for these aggregator sites on Google was key. Buying a generic search term such as "car insurance" or "compare" is the most expensive way of getting your brand to the top of the Google listings; the cost-per-click on a search term like "market" can be as high as £5. So VCCP knew it had to find a cheaper search term people could use; that's where the leap was made from "market" to "meerkat". Yes, at first it seemed a little bit clumsy and crude, but it's all in the execution. Thanks to the gentle wit of the sharp scripts and a spectacular social media campaign, Alexsandr has quickly become entertaining, loveable and quite believable. Comparethemarket now has better awareness than its rivals, insurance quote volumes are up by 80 per cent and the cost of driving a consumer to the site has fallen by over 70 per cent.

Naturally, Alexsandr's rivals are flapping around trying to find new advertising solutions to counter the meerkat phenomenon but they'll have to come up with something pretty special to displace a mongoose in the silk smoking jacket from British hearts.

Best in Show


*DDB and Volkswagen have worked together for 40 years. It is a unique relationship, not just for its longevity but also its consistency. No surprise then that the new ad for the VW Golf is another triumph. The idea is beautifully simple. Lots of cars are said to be "like a Golf" but there is nothing like the real thing.

From a woman hiring a car to a pack of lads examining an engine, it is clear other hatchbacks just don't match up. It's a clear, simple insight lovingly translated into a great TV ad.