Live Issue/The Return of the ’Man from the Pru’: Why AMV rekindled a 48-year-old ad for the Pru - The Prudential hopes its latest campaign is worth the wait, Emma Hall says

It obviously wasn’t an easy decision. More than a year after appointing Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and nearly 30 years after dismissing him as anachronistic, the Prudential has resurrected the ’man from the Pru’.

It obviously wasn’t an easy decision. More than a year after

appointing Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and nearly 30 years after dismissing

him as anachronistic, the Prudential has resurrected the ’man from the

Pru’.



Perhaps it was inevitable - despite successive campaigns, the ’man from

the Pru’ continued to rear his 48-year-old head in research groups and

surveys.



AMV has crafted a series of beautiful films, written by David Abbott,

art directed by Ron Brown and directed by Hugh Johnson through RSA Films

(Campaign, last week). The films seek to introduce a wistful quality to

the Prudential’s advertising and distance the brand from the more

practical and direct tone of voice delivered by Mustoe Merriman Herring

Levy’s ’talk to Prudence’ campaign.



What took ’the man from the Pru’ so long to stage his comeback? AMV was

handed the account in January 1996 without a pitch, so there was

obviously no campaign in the pipeline. But still, a whole year? Andrew

Williams, the advertising manager of the Prudential, says: ’We were very

diligent in making sure we were not pursuing a red herring.’



Insiders suggest, however, that a campaign was ready to run in mid-1996,

but was vetoed by Paul McGrane, who was appointed marketing director in

May.



The result is the new pounds 30 million version of ’the man from the

Pru’, promoted from doorstep rep to chief executive. Williams explains:

’We decided to cast him (or her) as the executive responsible for the

products and services we sell. A personal endorsement from an executive

is powerful.’



Convinced that it was possible to modernise the image but retain the

much-needed association with trust and traditional values, AMV developed

this idea, with the result that the current ’man from the Pru’ is very

much a 90s creation.



The campaign has no doubt been greeted with some cynicism at the

Prudential’s previous two agencies - Mustoe Merriman, September 1994 to

January 1996, and WCRS, 1986 to September 1994 - who were briefed to rid

the client of its stuffy image.



WCRS’s answer, after a couple of false starts, was the ’I want to be’

campaign, which took a humorous look at the incompatible ambitions of a

thirtysomething couple. When its turn came, Mustoe Merriman invented

’talk to Prudence’, which sought to mesh the company’s image with its

logo, a stylised drawing of Prudence, one of the four cardinal

virtues.



As Williams points out: ’’I want to be’ was popular but not branded, and

’talk to Prudence’ was branded but not popular.’



When WCRS and the Prudential could not reconcile their visions of the

campaign, the account was put up for pitch and Mustoe Merriman beat AMV

to win the business in 1994.



This appointment coincided with a period of upheaval at the

Prudential.



In May 1995, Sir Peter Davis took over as group chief executive and

immediately merged the UK company’s three separate divisions - central

communications, independent financial advisers and direct sales.



The merger made sense but the new central marketing department had no

leader, and the Prudential was also feeling the effects of a series of

industry crises.



A scandal surrounding the mis-selling of personal pensions broke in the

early 90s and more financial problems, including the collapse of the

Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the Maxwell pension fraud and

small businesses going bust, combined to make consumers very

conservative.



The Prudential didn’t emerge unscathed from this era and, without a

cohesive marketing strategy, was struggling to find a way out, while

rivals such as Allied Dunbar and Sun Alliance were coming up with

successful campaigns.



There was also the problem of a vastly expanded range of services which

needed to be communicated coherently in a crowded, confusing and

essentially dull market, where brand image and awareness is 90 per cent

of the battle.



When AMV lost its pitch for the combined Leeds/Halifax account it was

free to rekindle its relationship with Davis, who was the marketing

director of Sainsbury’s when the agency was awarded the account 16 years

ago.



After more upheavals at the Prudential, the marketing department was

reconstituted, with experienced hands including Paul McGrane, a former

Carlton Communications chief, and Andrew Williams, who moved over from

Saatchi and Saatchi.



The Prudential desperately needs to rebuild bridges with its customers

and Williams claims it has learnt from past mistakes.



Although the new strategy looks like a last resort, the stunning

commercials, backed by a tripled ad budget and hard-hitting press and

poster work, make for a campaign that has the hallmarks of success. But

will it sustain its momentum?



Williams says it will: ’We tried to get away from him, but we have gone

back to the ’man from the Pru’ because it is right.’



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