ADVERTISING & PROMOTION: Why Co-op buried ad taboo - As the Co-op prepares to launch the UK’s first major advertising campaign for a funeral business, Julian Lee looks at the sudden surge of marketing activity in this sensitive area

Death is an emotive issue and something most people don’t want to talk or think about. It’s also a pounds 900m-a-year business.

Death is an emotive issue and something most people don’t want to

talk or think about. It’s also a pounds 900m-a-year business.

Last week, the Co-op revealed plans to launch a national press


Colour posters posing the question ’Are you prepared for life after

death?’ will appear in selected magazines next month.

A national TV and poster campaign, in the pipeline for next year, will

undoubtedly break the long-standing taboo about advertising


It will also announce that the market is about to become far more


American firm Service Corporation International (SCI) is making inroads

into the pre-paid funerals market and is likely to attract a large

proportion of the seven million people expected to make plans for their

own funerals over the next ten years.

Fighting back

The aggressive marketing of the likes of SCI - Lowe Direct was appointed

to handle its pounds 4m direct account earlier this year - and even

organisations such as Age Concern, has forced the nation’s second

largest undertaker, Co-operative Funeral Services, to give the green

light to an ad campaign.

Sales and marketing manager Ben Jason says extensive research was

conducted with 4000 face-to-face interviews before he went ahead. Yet

the time has come, he argues, to fight for market share.

’The first obvious thing they say about the funeral industry is that it

is a caring and sensitive profession. But above all it is a retail

business, and it’s a tough business,’ he says.

The new press campaign will attempt to persuade people that by planning

ahead for their own funeral they will not only save money but also

prevent their family from suffering a great deal of stress after the


’The campaign was researched really well and straddles perfectly the

boundary between impact and sympathy,’ adds Jason

According to the agency behind the campaign, J Walter Thompson

Manchester, the British public do not have an aversion to the idea of

marketing funerals if it is done tastefully.

Easy does it

’We found the public were quite open-minded about the idea,’ says

account director Tim Rosenberg. ’As long as it is done step by step then

the barriers will be pushed back, but it has to be done sensitively and

in stages.’

Taboos have been broken before. Ten years ago, few people could have

predicted the activity surrounding brands such as Tambrands. ’These

things do take time but you will see undertakers regularly marketing

themselves in the future,’ says Rosenberg.

Companies such as the Co-op and SCI stand a good chance of getting their

brand noticed in a marketplace that continues to be dominated by

independent undertakers, which rely on the sombre totems of angels and

wreaths as the symbols of their trade, and the classified ads as the

full extent of their marketing.

One thing they do have that the multiples cannot replicate over-night is

a strong bond with the customer - in most cases, a family knows and has

used an undertaker before - and word of mouth.


- There are 600,000 deaths in the UK each year.

- The Co-op is the largest funeral operator in the country. A quarter of

all people are buried by the movement’s undertakers.

- Nearly 95% of the British public do not plan for their own


- A standard funeral costs pounds 1215.

- 62% of 15- to 24-year-olds said it was ’very important’ to arrange

their own funerals.

- The Co-op has more than 800 funeral shops in the UK.


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