CAMPAIGN DIRECT: MARKETING CHALLENGE - How Lowe Direct helped drivers focus on the new-look RAC. A below-the-line push was a key factor in explaining the RAC’s rebranding to its members. By Meg Carter

Away from the glare of publicity - both good and bad - surrounding last year’s redesign and rebranding work for the RAC, there was a below-the-line campaign through Lowe Direct that delivered solid results.

Away from the glare of publicity - both good and bad - surrounding

last year’s redesign and rebranding work for the RAC, there was a

below-the-line campaign through Lowe Direct that delivered solid


The challenge was a daunting one. The RAC estimates that about 80 per

cent of its two million individual members renew each year and, of the

remaining 20 per cent, most go to rivals such as the AA or Green


By retaining more members, the benefit would go straight to the bottom

line - projections showed an uplift of just 1 per cent sticking with the

RAC would add pounds 2 million.

At the same time, all below-the-line communications had to be brought in

line with the rebranding campaign, which was unveiled in April 1997.

This comprised not only a new logo but a fresh positioning for the

organisation. The message was to be less about getting from A to B, more

about the future benefits of new technology.

The trouble was, previous direct marketing had worked because it focused

on a tangible benefit - in almost all executions, price. The Lowe Direct

team, therefore, had to tread carefully to balance past experience of

what would deliver results with the new creative push orchestrated by

the former marketing director of the RAC, Jan Smith, and her hand-picked

’virtual agency’ headed by the creative partners, John Dean and Simon

Green. Since then, Smith has been succeeded by Findlay Caldwell, who has

joined the company from Dillons Bookstores and thrown the RAC’s

advertising and media arrangements into review - leaving its

below-the-line ag-ency unchanged, however.

’We were working against a backdrop of revolutionary change,’ Mike

Welsh, the group account director of Lowe Direct, says. ’The challenge

was to incorporate the new thinking through all our activities without

diluting what was already a successful direct marketing formula.’

It was easier than the team dared expect at first. ’The new image is

sexy - it has given us far more elements to play with,’ he claims. ’But,

in 1996, our priority was developing a strategy that wouldn’t alienate

existing members.’

Lowe Direct refined the various elements of the previous direct

marketing activity, although it devised a new generation of mailings,

leaflets and promotional offers for the weeks after the April 1997

unveiling of the RAC re-branding campaign. There were 1,400 combinations

of the renewal communication where, previously, there was just a


At the heart of the strategy was the new-look RAC membership card - grey

plastic with a clear plastic base strip - which carried the new RAC logo

and re-designed font. The transition was not without its challenges.

’With a brand relaunch, there is always the double-edged sword of

surprising the consumer. Some will like it, some will not - the

important thing is not to lose anyone - it’s a delicate balancing act,’

Jonathan Latham, the RAC’s head of direct marketing, says.

’An initial problem was that the new advertising didn’t feature

breakdowns but focused on new technology. Yet breakdowns are the main

reason for people wanting to join and they shape most people’s

relationship with the RAC,’ Welsh adds.

The starting point was a closer look at the RAC’s existing database to

ensure consumers were spoken to in more relevant terms at more relevant

times. Statistical software, called CHAID, identified people who were

less likely to renew. A range of mail packs were designed


Each item in the three main packs featured brightly coloured,

high-impact photographs of RAC recovery vehicles. They were stylishly

shot and served as a reminder of the RAC’s core business. The first mail

pack was designed for existing members. It had to introduce the new look

and gently explain the repositioning without scaring off more

conservative customers.

It was sent to members as their renewal dates approached. The second was

for lapsed members - designed to encourage them to think again about the

’new’ RAC. The third set of packs responded to enquiries from


These broke down into three varieties. ’We tried to assess what parts of

the offer had prompted the enquiry and then sent a new members pack that

expanded on a particular benefit,’ Welsh says. So, one highlighted the

’no call-out’ discount, another the base products while the third

remained generic. Additional mailings were developed for the RAC’s motor

manufacturing partners, providing free RAC membership for limited

periods to new car buyers and for new car buyers whose free membership

was about to expire. ’We stuck to the old adage of talking about

benefits, not features, and emphasised how this would help the RAC to

find you faster and quicker,’ Welsh explains.

Price was also an issue. Lowe Direct had been working for some time to

ease the RAC away from pure price promotion in its direct response


A number of ’softer’ alternatives had been tested but none had performed

as well. The mail packs enabled the RAC to present other benefits of

joining the service. Even so, price benefits - notably the ’no call out’

discount - remained essential tools.

’In some ways, we’ve actually been less revolutionary than the

advertising,’ Welsh says. ’The advertising’s aim was to change

perceptions of the RAC and distance it further from its rivals. Ours was

to hit much shorter-term goals - 12 month targets for membership levels

and revenue generated.’

Jonathan Latham, the RAC’s head of direct marketing, won’t be specific

about the effect of the campaign so far. ’All our below-the-line work is

highly business-focused,’ he insists. Quantifying this, however, is not

so easy. ’Renewal rates are up considerably but it is very difficult

indeed to isolate the effect of the direct marketing from the other


He will only reveal that Lowe’s campaign ’over-achieved against its

percentage renewal target and projected renewal rate’. The renewal rate,

which had been steadily improving over a three-year period, has now

exceeded the target of 86 per cent set for the year 2000.