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.”

Rhys Williams, creative director at The Quiet Room, a brand language consultancy which has worked with brands including PruHealth and Ageas Protect, believes that Aviva has failed to strike a balance between the negative and positive elements of the advert.

“One of the problems is that it dramatises the accident so you end up thinking how awful it would be to have a motorbike accident, but it does not dramatise the need – paying the bills,” he says. “It is glossing over the real point of pain for people. If you think of it as a seesaw, the weight is very heavily on the negative side.”

Notably, two of my friends were confused about whether the policy would cover illness as well as an accident.

Accentuating the positive

Tim Jackson, head of marketing strategy at Unum, says the insurer deliberately went for a different approach to the “fear factor” when it decided to launch its own campaign.

“In the past providers have literally terrified people into buying life insurance,” he says. “I have always had a sense that there must be a way of seeing the positive rather than the negative benefits.”

Although Jackson acknowledges that “sometimes you do have to give people a bit of a dose of reality” (Unum uses real life case studies in other media), he believes there can be a flipside to this.

“If you give them a scary message a lot of people dig their head in the sand so they disengage,” he warns.

He describes the Unum advert featuring Mat Ricardo as “a way of visually arresting people”.

The Quiet Room’s Williams believes that Unum’s is “probably a better ad [than Aviva’s] but not necessarily a better ad for IP”.

“The ad upstages itself because halfway through you stopped listening to him talking about IP and started focusing on the trick,” he says. “It’s a good sales pitch for Mat Ricardo but the message about IP might be lost.”

He likes the “backup plan” concept though, which “sounds instinctively good” and describes the website highlighted by the advert as “definitely worthy of praise”, providing Unum with a captive audience open to being told the bigger story about IP.

Raising awareness

Since launching its £15m three-year consumer campaign earlier this year, Unum has always argued that the aim is not so much to advertise Unum’s products but to raise awareness of the need for IP and grow the market as a whole. Of course, as market leader it stands to benefit the most should that happen.

“When we conducted research earlier this year we found that most people had not even heard of IP,” reports Jackson. “If they had, they did not really know what it is; there was a lot of confusion with unemployment cover and payment protection insurance (PPI).”

This association with PPI, and financial services in general, is arguably the cause of significant wariness among consumers. When I asked how he would sum up IP, one friend replied: “You pay an insurance premium so that if you are off work then the insurance company can find a reason not to pay you.” Another asked whether it was “the stuff that banks got banned for mis-selling” (and asked if I was “involved in a racket” and could get him a free pen and alarm clock). Another had been burned by her experience of buying a rent loss policy from a major provider whose service was “terrible”.

Another oft-cited barrier to sales of IP, which the adverts perhaps do not address, is price. A survey of more than 5,000 people carried out this year by Scottish Widows found that although most people were aware of protection products, they remained unwilling to buy them, citing cost as the major barrier. For example, 83% of people were aware of IP but just 7% had bought it. Three of my female friends gave this as their reason not to take out the product.

Jackson believes that the answer to the protection gap is to engage employers via employees. Unum’s research with employers found that they were unlikely to start funding IP unless their employees start asking for it [hence the message in the adverts that “you get it through work”]. Notably, the one friend I have who does have IP has it through his employer. He told me that without a mortgage or dependants he “probably wouldn’t buy it at the moment” but would as soon as this situation changed.

Karen Gamble, director of health and wellbeing at consultancy Gallagher Employee Benefits, is pleased that “the industry is doing something” but remains unsure whether, in the current climate, employees will ask their employer for anything.

“It isn’t clear [in the Unum advert] whether this is company-paid or company-sponsored,” she points out. “I am not sure that employees have enough information to know what they are asking for.”

Bang for your buck

Given Unum’s emphasis on raising awareness rather than sales, you might wonder how it will measure whether the £15m investment has paid off. Jackson says that, given the fact that the product is sold through employers he is expecting a “lag response” and “no directly obvious peak [in sales]”.

“We are measuring people’s change in mindset,” he explains, adding that Unum will be undertaking “qualitative market research” to test the reaction of consumers, employers and brokers. Thanks to the Back-up website, hits can also be measured, and he reports that people are already calling Unum’s office directly, enabling Unum to redirect them to IFAs.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s Callard says that while, ultimately, communications should be driving sales and market share, these can take a long time to change, so it is important to measure intermediate things which will move and can suggest future impact on sales. Large, monthly surveys can check whether people remember the advert and the brand and whether it made them more likely to buy the product in question. Response via websites and social media sites can also be measured.

In the meantime, brokers may anticipate an increase in enquiries about protection. Matt Morris of national specialist protection intermediary Lifesearch welcomed the both adverts.

“I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to advertise protection,” he says. “In fact, a shock ad like Aviva’s, alongside a more light-hearted one like Unum’s is probably the perfect combination as it makes the viewer cross the range of the emotional spectrum.”

He has hopes that the adverts will make a “subconscious impact” so that “next time the viewer speaks to an adviser the term IP won’t be so alien to them”. Time will tell whether these hopes are realised.

What do you think? Have you seen an increase in enquiries about protection since the launch of the advertisements? Let us know at

IP facts

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), there are 3.6 million active IP policies in the UK, covering 11% of the labour force

In the US 27% of the labour force is covered by an IP policy (Of Mutual Benefit report, Demos, 2011)

67% of people believe that they would cope badly financially if they lost their job (ABI Savings and Protection survey, 2010)

Advisers asked why IP is difficult to sell cited “clients don’t think they need it” as the number one factor, followed by “it’s too expensive” and “clients cannot afford it” (Defaqto IFA survey, 2010)


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