Adwatch (Feb 23) - Top 20 recall: Aviva gets serious

Aviva's campaign featuring Paul Whitehouse takes a sombre tone
Aviva's campaign featuring Paul Whitehouse takes a sombre tone

The insurance brand's latest Paul Whitehouse ad takes a disappointingly serious tack.

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In this commercial, Paul Whitehouse plays a man watching his family pack for a holiday. At various points we cut to close-ups of them wistfully missing their dad, and at the end we discover he is deceased.

When selling life insurance, peace of mind is the generic benefit: don't worry, your loved ones will be financially secure after you die. The problem is that anyone working in the insurance industry gets to this insight after about 12 seconds of account-plannery contemplation.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with trying to own the category-generic benefit, as long as you can do so credibly and stamp your unique brand identity onto it. And there's the rub: what is Aviva's brand identity? To most people, Aviva is the somewhat faceless yellow-and-green thing. It's got some previous ... something about Norwich? It's big, so reasonably trustworthy (as far as that goes in financial services these days), but it's not very dynamic, and is probably a bit pricey.

Umm ... not the tightest of positionings to be injecting into a generic benefit.

But I'm being unfair. For a while now, Aviva has bound itself tightly to the association with Fast Show-era Whitehouse. Once incredibly popular, he can bring a bit of zest to an otherwise rather corporate brand. Borrowing interest seems to have paid off nicely for the meerkats, so it can be a viable creative solution. Moreover Whitehouse is a chameleon, capable of being a jester and the regular guy. His comedy is observational, familiar and definitely not edgy: not the worst equity for a brand to try to borrow.

However, in this ad, Whitehouse seems at odds with his own brand. For a start, he is dead. He is referencing death, loss and bereavement and there is no relief - no funny at the end of the script. Perhaps he is now out of character and playing himself? It is unclear and jars a bit for me. It looks as though it jars a bit for him, too - his performance in the last scene feels unnatural. Whitehouse is much better playing up stereotypes, and this sits somewhere awkwardly between The Fast Show, BT's recurrent family pathos and a Cancer Research UK commercial, falling short of each.

This certainly isn't the best ad in the category, nor is it Aviva's best Whitehouse commercial. An infamous planning director once said to me that he thought 'celebrities are the last gasp of a dying brand'. Nonetheless, they do aid recall (along with a big burst of TVRs, of course), which is all-important when selling insurance. Does it help Aviva to sell life insurance? A bit. But mainly because the spot is buying share of voice, not because it connects powerfully with its audience.

Adwatch (Feb 23) top 20 most recalled ads
Latest Feb-16 Brand Agency/TV Buyer Recall
rank       %
1 (–)





2 (–) 

Wordley Production/


3 (–) 

DLKW Lowe/


4 (–) DFS  Uber/Brilliant 47
5 (–) 



6 (–) Aviva 

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO/


7 (–) Burger King 

Crispin Porter & Bogusky/


8 (–) Subway 

McCann Erickson/

MediaCom Scotland

9= (–) Sainsbury's 

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO/


9= (–) Wickes  MWO/MEC 32
11 (–)

New York Bakery


JWT London/


12 (–)

Cadbury's Creme


Fallon London/


13= (–)  (Beta)/Maxus 29
13= (–) Nestle Milky Bar  Santo/Mindshare 29
15 (2=) Argos 

CHI & Partners/


16= (–) Currys/PC World 

M&C Saatchi/

Walker Media

16= (–)

Uncle Ben's Cooking


Proximity London/


16= -11 Homebase 

Leo Burnett/


19= -1 Tesco 

The Red Brick Road/


19= (–)

Alfa Romeo


Leo Burnett Italy, DCH/




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