Churchill stalled by Martin Clunes driving ban

The insurer has axed TV actor Martin Clunes and must plot a fresh ad strategy.

Churchill: parting company with Martin Clunes
Churchill: parting company with Martin Clunes

Insurance provider Churchill, part of the Direct Line Group being spun off by RBS, announced last month that it had ditched former Men Behaving Badly star Martin Clunes as the face of its advertising, following his disqualification from driving. The actor reportedly racked up the maximum 12 points allowed on his driving licence, having been penalised for four speeding offences.

The brand had worked with him for almost a year, as it sought to position itself as a 'dependable' insurance provider. Clunes' appearance alongside Churchill, the brand's animated nodding-dog character, established a popular double act.

The most recent ad, created by agency WCRS as part of a £50m campaign, featured Clunes riding a Triumph motorbike through the countryside, with the dog in a sidecar.

Churchill marketing director Amanda Walker said last year that using Clunes for its marketing campaigns gave the brand an air of credibility and trust, as consumers had 'grown up' with the actor, whom she described as a household name.

The insurer has gone through a similar situation before. Several years ago, it dropped Vic Reeves from its advertising, following the comedian's arrest and charges being laid against him for drink-driving.

Churchill has no ads starring Clunes currently airing, and says it is moving forward with a fresh advertising strategy.

However, in light of the sudden departure of its well-known star, how should Churchill rethink its creative approach? Will the fact that Clunes has been banned from driving make the brand appear less reputable and trustworthy in consumers' eyes?

Marketing asked Hilary Large, head of marketing at Betfred.com and a former head of marketing at Littlewoods, and Craig Mawdsley, joint chief strategic officer at ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.


£77.6m - Profit in 2011, reversing a £53.3m loss in 2010

48% - 2011 net earned premium accounted for by its personal motor book

Source: Companies House



Celebrities as brand ambassadors can offer fantastic brand alignment.

Few thought, for example, that the Iceland ads featuring Kerry Katona were in John Lewis territory, but it was hard to deny that, for a while, she offered the perfect brand fit, epitomising a 'normal mum' coping with the rigours of single parenthood.

Then came the torrid drug revelations - and that's the problem: when celebs fail, so can ad strategies.


- Reflect: did a celebrity route work for the brand? In my view, it did allow Churchill to cut through some of the 'noise' of the endless price-comparison commercials.

- Research: what is the consumer take on all this? I bet they are as confused by myriad insurance ads as I am. Churchill should ask potential and existing consumers about how they perceive the brand and the extent to which its appeal is heightened by its use of celebrities in ads.

- React: if differentiation is the desired objective (and it should be), then it may be that another celebrity fits the bill.



Celebrities, eh? They are fallible human beings, like all of us, although the complicating factors of too much money and time seems to lead them to even more unfortunate situations.

Crisis recovery depends on the brand relationship. There's a big difference between endorsement and acting. If Delia Smith endorses your supermarket, and then turns out to have never cooked a meal in her life, you have a big problem. If, however, you are buying acting rather than expertise, you're in an easier position.

That is the case with Churchill, so the comeback should be relatively simple. It also has the benefit of being a brand that, in recent years, has been skilfully built with a sense of humour and a controlled character at the heart.

Unless the animated dog is caught in a compromising position with some poodles, the brand should be fine.


- Make the dog the hero again.

- Make the brand's funniest ad yet; laughter is a great healer.

- If Churchill must have a companion, spread the risk with a series of comedy foils, not just one.