Funny thing, fame. For opera singer Wynne Evans, just three notes were enough to catapult him from obscurity into 96 per cent of the population's brains. Too mad to be true? Wait until I tell you what those notes are – not that you'll thank me when you're still humming them this evening.
That's because Evans is the tubby tenor with the twizzly moustache who burst on to our screens yelling "Go Compaaare! Go Compaaaare!". After 14 years' grind as a professional singer, performing at Glyndebourne, the ENO and the Royal Opera House, Evans suddenly found fame as Gio Compario, the face we all want to punch from that price-comparison website.
"Search no longer / To save some wonga", he bellows while pirouetting through Egyptian pyramids or on a tropical beach. No wonder they've been voted the Most Annoying Adverts two years running.
Trouble is, the ads work. At least, they have done for Evans, who signed a six-album deal with Warner, the first of which came out last week. It's been a bizarre 18 months for the 39-year-old father of two from Carmarthen. Despite his new-found celebrity, he is still very much a classical singer, juggling trips to South Africa to record yet more ads in between serious operas.
Doesn't he mind, I ask, forever being associated with an annoying car-insurance ad? "Nah, they're a laugh," he shrugs. "I never thought I would be on telly 40 or 50 times a day." What about the endless procession of strangers coming up to him in the street to yell out that damned catchphrase? "Not really." Actually, he rather likes being so popular among children, who make up the bulk of his fanbase.
If Evans is having a laugh, there's plenty more chuckling on the way to the bank at Go Compare, a small Welsh company of only 40 staff that is now as familiar a brand as many multinationals. Fame didn't come cheap – reports suggest it spent £28m on the campaign in 2010 alone.
But it's probably been worth it. A study out this month, which compared the hit rates of four price-comparison websites – surely the comparison to end all comparisons – concluded that visitor numbers relate directly to adspend. The report by market research firm Nielsen also found that Go Compare had the highest number of viewers who could recall the brand a day after seeing the ad.
If one thing is certain in the mad world of adland it is that annoying the viewers is good. Especially when selling boring products such as insurance. Gio Compario is the latest of dozens of ludicrous characters invented by car-insurance advertisers to have captured the public imagination. Just think of Aleksandr Orlov, the natty, pipe-smoking meerkat who last year topped the Christmas bestsellers' list with his memoirs. Or Churchill, the bulldog with the bobbing head who has forever changed the way we say "yes". In fact, almost all insurance ads have an annoying gimmick: think Direct Line and the little red telephones. Or the lurid girls in Sheilas' Wheels. Then there was the Admiral from Admiral, Paul Whitehouse in the Aviva ads – even Michael Winner earned a following thanks to his esure catchphrase, "Calm down, dear, it's only a commercial!"
The reason they're annoying is because insurance is so dull, explains ad expert Peter York. "Boring products have, by definition, to come up with rather compelling and memorable popular advertising. Otherwise, people can't understand what they're being asked to buy," he says. "The dignified insurance market has all but disappeared."
Time was when insurers sought to project an image of strength, reliability and trustworthiness. But now that the internet has made comparing quotes so much easier, value for money is top priority. "Insurers are appealing to a younger audience," says York. "The ads no longer have a gravitas requirement. They have a memorability and a price requirement."
Ads have always tried to be memorable, but as Evans points out, it's now much easier for the audience to make their views known. "It's interesting to see the reaction," he laughs. "Ten years ago there wasn't an outlet to vent your fury at the brand. Now you can post something on the internet while you're watching me on telly."
Evans doesn't mind being voted one of the most annoying faces on TV. Of course not – he's got an album to promote. It's an easy-listening number, with a few familiar arias. He tells me he had the great Enrico Caruso in mind when he auditioned for Go Compare, as Caruso sang the wartime song "Over There", on which the ad is based. I can vouch that Evans has a great voice, as he bursts into song several times while we talk. He even belts out the immortal line. What a pity it doesn't figure on the album. Then again, we probably all know that tune quite well enough already.Reuse content