Snuggle up with the oldest trick in the marketing book


Today’s traders are surrounded by preachers of fire and brimstone. We are constantly told that the future is digital, the demographics are over, and traditional advertising media are the living dead.

o You would be forgiven for being confused by the seemingly retro movement that seems to have become the most esteemed weapon in the marketing arsenal of major consumer brands.

Barely a week goes by without another company announcing a plush giveaway from their brand’s mascot.

Whether it’s a miniature of Brian the Robot, Neil the Sloth or, of course, Aleksander or one of his extended meerkat family, the UK general public seems to be in the hands of from any company that offers a free toy in exchange for its investment in insurance, living room furniture, or frozen peas.

It all started 14 years ago with Monkey, created by London-based advertising agency Mother to promote ITV Digital alongside comedian Jonny Vegas.

Anyone signing up for the broadcaster’s digital service received a free monkey toy and customers went, well… bananas. Monkey toys started selling on eBay at dramatically inflated prices and even knitting patterns showing how to make your own monkey were trading hands for hard cash. Monkey was without a doubt a huge marketing success – not successful enough to keep ITV Digital from going to the wall in a year, but good enough to transcend the brand it was created for.

Years later, after a lengthy legal battle between ITV and their advertising agency (which retained the rights), Monkey appeared in a new series of ads for PG Tips and became an instantly recognizable advertising icon.

Fast forward a few years to 2006, and the advertising agency VCCP took it a step further and in so doing transformed the fortunes of the struggling price comparison site, with the introduction of Aleksander the meerkat.

The campaign, now in its sixth year, has seen its market share increase from around 5% to 40%. A statistic bolstered by the 2011 introduction of plush versions of Aleksander and various other members of the mongoose mob, for customers purchasing insurance through the website.

With over five million meerkat toys now delivered, there is no doubt that this simple giveaway has proven to be a huge success. And that says a lot about the place marketing can have in the modern world when consumers literally snuggle up against brand symbology.

While we marketers all hail the latest research on consumer engagement on Snapchat (and while we’re at it, can we have a moratorium on the word ‘engagement’ please?), it’s easy for marketers to overlook the awesome power of just a giveaway.

A study by the British Promotional Marketing Association found that 34% of consumers changed their choice of insurer or comparison site just to get their hands on a meerkat toy.

In these days of hyper targeting and marketing automation software, never forget that sometimes the oldest tips in the book are still the best.


Martin Byrne is an Integrated Marketing Consultant at Morrow Communications

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