Analysis: Income protection - what impact will the Unum and Aviva ads have on the market?

Like them or loathe them, they've caused quite a stir

Two recent high profile advertising campaigns have brought income protection into millions of people's living rooms over the past few weeks. In the wake of a mixed reaction to both, Madeleine Davies asks what impact they might have in the longer term.

Just how difficult it is to please everybody with an advert is evident from the responses I got when I asked my friends what they thought of the recent efforts of Aviva and Unum to promote income protection (IP) on television.

Depending on who you ask, Unum’s advert is “smart, clever and straight to the point” or “pretty vague”, its message eluding all but the financial experts. Aviva’s i-dents are “creepy and a bit scaremongering” or “a bit like the BT family – you’re rooting for them”.

You’re never going to win over all nine million viewers of Downton Abbey, the ITV drama currently punctuated with Aviva’s telling of the real life story of Gary (an injured motorcycle rider, pictured) and Unum’s showcasing of the talents of Mat Ricardo (a comedian/cabaret artist). But does it matter whether people like an advert or not? And if people don’t like it (including the 15 who complained to Ofcom about Aviva’s approach), can the insurer who invested heavily in it still rack it up as a success?

Go compare

According to Tom Callard, a planner at global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, it doesn’t necessarily matter if viewers respond negatively to an advert.

“I hate Go Compare [adverts] but if I ever wanted car insurance it would instantly enter my mind and I'd probably search it first,” he points out. “There are no car insurance comparison brands I like or feel close to so I have no reason not to choose the first one which rushes into my head.

“In general, being remembered is better than just not noticed. Most advertising ends up being ignored and then your money is just being thrown away. If it’s remembered then at least it is on people's radars and it’s then a brand they would consider.”

Although he argues that complaints about the advert won’t necessarily harm Aviva's brand as a whole (they were dismissed after Ofcom decided that they did not raise any issues under its codes), they were sufficient to prompt Aviva to change tack.

“In the first couple of weeks of Downton Abbey some viewers let us know that they felt what we had done was getting in the way of the drama they’d tuned in to watch,” says Sue Helmont, head of brand at Aviva UK. “We didn't want that, so we have changed the 'idents' and while we are still showing the difference we can make in our customers lives – hopefully – they will be more sympathetic with the wonderful drama that is Downton Abbey.”

Several respondents to my mini-survey identified Aviva’s campaign as an attempt to “pull an emotional heartstring”, with one comparing it to “those gut-wrenching cancer ads” but another commenting that it made her “glad for them [Gary’s family] that they got money when they needed it.”

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