Led by the Association of Mutual Insurers (AMI), a range of companies including Royal Liver Assurance and Royal London, have joined together to promote the virtues of mutuality at a time of immense consumer dissatisfaction with commercial financial-services brands.
The nature of the insurers' activity is nothing new. Trade organisations such as the Dairy Council, the British Pig Executive and the English Beef & Lamb Executive have long advertised on behalf of the producers they represent. However, the mere fact that an approach has been applied several times before does not mean it is without its challenges, not least in maintaining a consensus among stakeholders.
Nick Yarker, account director at DDB London, handled the National Dairy Council account when it launched its £9m 'White Stuff' TV campaign in 2000. The ads aimed to make milk more popular among younger consumers, and carried the strapline 'Milk gives you bottle'. The campaign featured sporting icons Chris Eubank, Prince Naseem Hamed and George Best in animated form.
'Our challenge was creating a brand for milk, rather than explaining what milk is,' says Yarker. 'It was a fairly long process and you had to make sure that everyone was happy, from the farmers to the dairies, through to the bodies funding the campaign, such as the European Union.'
More recently, and controversially, the Natural Hydration Council (NHC), a joint venture between bottled-water brand owners Nestle Waters, Danone Waters and Highland Spring, launched an ad campaign promoting the health benefits of drinking water.
The ads were rolled out hot on the heels of a raft of criticism of the bottled-water sector. This included an unfavourable report aired on the BBC documentary series Panorama last year, in which former environment minister Phil Woolas said that drinking bottled water verged on being 'morally unacceptable'.
The NHC's campaign highlighted the inherent difficulties of bringing market leaders together as evidenced by the minimal involvement of Coca-Cola, which owns the Malvern water brand. The company was, after all, hardly likely to be enamoured by the campaign's implicit criticism of sugary fizzy drinks.
The challenge of pleasing multiple clients was also apparent at the peak of the battle between satellite and cable TV brands in the 90s, when the Cable Communications Association (CCA) launched a £12m campaign.
The TV ads, which starred Dawn French, failed to satisfy the participating cable TV brands. CCA market-ing director Mike Hayes subsequently lost his job and incumbent ad agency JWT lost the business.
According to Mick Desmond, a former chief executive of ITV Broad-casting and chairman of Channel Television, the cable broadcasters suffered from a lack of clear objectives. 'Generic campaigns are always quite difficult to manage as you don't get the clarity of brief, and you have a committee of people who need to be kept happy,' he says. 'An ad message needs to be powerful and simple, which is why Sky has always done well against the opposition.'
However, the biggest concern for marketers is to ensure that if they participate in an industry campaign it does not impinge on their brand's marketing activity.
David Radford, group marketing director at LV=, which is taking part in the joint mutual insurance promotion, admits his priority is brand marketing rather than generating awareness of the sector.
'I don't think there is any harm [in joint marketing], but it's probably better for some of the smaller mutuals than it is for us,' says Radford. 'Mutuality is a key support-point for our brand, but just saying "We're a mutual" isn't enough.'
Therein lies the trouble with generic campaigns - when there is an opportunity for an industry to take advantage of market conditions, as with mutuals during the recession, brands are happy enough to join forces. How-ever, in a more difficult environment, this convivial mood can fade, and marketers return to their primary concern - backing their own brand.
- The UK mutual insurance sector has 15m policyholders and employs nearly 13,000 people
- The total assets of the mutual insurance industry are worth more than £78.4bn
- In 2008, mutual insurance brands won more than £660m-worth
- of new business
- Royal London has the biggest asset total at £27.1m, followed by NFU Mutual with £11.9m and Equitable Life with £10.2m
- Source: Association of Mutual Insurers (AMI)