Belfast Telegraph

Cuddling up with oldest trick in marketing book

By Martin Byrne

Marketers today are surrounded by fire and brimstone 'end of days' preachers. We're constantly being told that the future is digital, that demographics are over and traditional advertising media are dead men walking.

So you'd be forgiven for being confused by the seemingly retro move which appears to have become the most esteemed weapon in the marketing arsenal of big consumer brands.

Barely a week goes by without another company announcing a cuddly toy giveaway of their brand mascot.

Whether it is a miniature Brian the Robot, Neil the Sloth or, of course, Aleksander or any of his extended meerkat family - the great British public are seemingly putty in the hands of any company who offers a free toy in return for their investment in insurance, living room furniture or frozen peas.

It all began 14 years ago with Monkey, created by London ad agency Mother to promote ITV Digital alongside comedian Jonny Vegas.

Anybody signing up to the broadcaster's digital service received a free monkey toy and customers went, well… bananas. Monkey toys began selling on eBay at greatly inflated prices and even knitting patterns showing how to make your own monkey were exchanging hands for cold, hard cash. Monkey was undoubtedly a huge marketing success - not successful enough to stop ITV Digital from going to the wall within a year but good enough to transcend the brand he had been created for.

Years later, after a protracted legal battle between ITV and their ad agency (who retained the rights), Monkey popped up in a new series of ads for PG Tips and has gone on to become an instantly recognisable advertising icon.

Fast forward a few years to 2006 and ad agency VCCP took 'going monkey' a step further and in doing so transformed the fortunes of struggling price comparison site, with the introduction of Aleksander the Meerkat.

The campaign, now in its sixth year, has seen market share increase from about 5% to 40%. A stat boosted by the 2011 introduction of cuddly toy versions of Aleksander, and various other members of the mongoose mob, for customers taking out an insurance policy through the website.

With more than five million meerkat toys now delivered, there is no doubt that this simple giveaway has proven to be massively successful. And it says a huge amount about the place marketing can have in the modern world when consumers are literally cuddling up to brand symbology.

While we marketers are all nodding along to the latest research about 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 forget the awesome power of a simple giveaway.

Research from the British Promotional Marketing Association found that 34% of consumers had changed their choice of insurer or comparison site just to get hold of a meerkat toy.

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


Martin Byrne is an integrated marketing consultant at Morrow Communications

Belfast Telegraph