A campaign is not a brand. Simples.
I love those little meerkats as much as the next man. It was a brilliant campaign. Such a refreshingly quirky and original voice in the usually rather safe, anodyne world of financial services marketing. And genuinely integrated too – with a fully functioning comparethemeerkat.com. You can still compare meerkats and buy Aleksandr’s autobiography or the full family of soft toys – Bogdan, Yakov, Sergei and the rest.
The campaign was a stunning success – a coup for both VCCP and the brand. It won awards. Comparethemarket.com became the fourth most visited insurance website in the UK. The brand’s sales doubled. In social media, Aleksandr acquired 700,000 fans on Facebook and 22,000 followers on Twitter. ‘Simples’ entered the popular vernacular in the way that many copywriters can only dream their work will. Go Compare felt compelled to inflict its rotund tenor on the nation.
But here’s my but… Imagine the Compare The Market brand without Aleksandr. If you take him and his little furry chums away, what’s left? What would you say about the brand? A campaign is not and never will be a brand and so now there’s a bit of a problem. The brand doesn’t stand for anything. Well, it does but that thing is…meerkats.
It’s a little like a stand up comedian bursting onto stage and captivating the audience with a brilliant opening two minutes and then…nothing. Or a band playing a blistering first couple of songs and then boring the audience senseless for the remaining 90 minutes.
I think this every time I see the newish Robert Webb ads. Surely I am not the only viewer to feel disappointed by them. Not only is the concept much weaker than ‘meerkats’ but they’re nothing like as funny. What’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong link – creatively or in terms of content – between Aleksandr and this new phase. Ostensibly there is one but it isn’t especially clear from the work.
This is where a strong brand earns its keep. A brand gives you something to talk about when that wildly successful, award-winning campaign has worn out. It gives you a narrative that can run from campaign to campaign. It provides something to unite your creative work. Crucially, it means your brand will be represent more than the metaphor or the gag or the brand ambassador you’re using in that particular quarter or even for that whole year. And, if you get your brand marketing right, it means that when you ask your customers what springs to mind when you mention your brand, they won’t say ‘a knitted monkey’ or ‘David Beckham’ or ‘meerkats’. Followed by a deafening silence.