CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/EGG - Egg appoints Mother for an image beyond quirky. Despite its brand success, Egg is keen for a different image, Jenny Watts writes

It's not every online financial banking company that would choose

to portray its staff as so over-friendly that they think nothing of

climbing into bed with their customers. But ever since its launch in

October 1998, Egg has always tried to stand out from the crowd. Under

HHCL & Partners' mindful eye, Egg's quirky advertising saw it hatch into

a hugely successful online banking company.



Which is why it comes as such a shock that the £16 million account

should move to Mother, without so much as a pitch.



Egg, after all, has enjoyed substantial success in its history.

According to Simon Burridge, the chairman of HHCL & Partners, sales of

Egg cards are up 175 per cent since the advertising featuring Daisy

Donovan trying to buy a Russian husband with her Egg card broke.

Burridge also cites a brand awareness figure of 84 per cent. So if HHCL

has done such a good job on Egg, why has the business moved?



"It is no more complicated than Nick Cross," is Burridge's

explanation.



"People like him come in and are in charge of their global marketing

effort and want to do it with their own people."



And while other marketing directors also exhibit the "new broom

syndrome", it seems clear that Cross (who was on holiday and unable to

comment this week) just wants to work with Mother. Holding a pitch with

the outcome already decided would have wasted everyone's time, and

Cross' friendship with Mother founder Stef Calcraft goes back to their

days at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.



Still, others maintain there is more to the account shift than trendy

cronyism. Some argue Egg has gradually gone stale at HHCL. "It's

perceived as being a bit niche, and a bit odd," one observer says,

arguing that Egg's winning quirkiness has become formulaic. "Egg didn't

catch people's imagination the way it had promised to. They didn't

deliver on the intent of making people look at finances in a different

way."



HHCL has traditionally played the odd, niche advertising card very

well.



From Tango to the AA, it has run lengthy campaigns off such a

strategy.



But while much of HHCL's work has polarised opinion, Mother can point to

characters such as ITV Digital's Al and Monkey as evidence that its

strategies can appeal to a broader public.



Burridge counters that a creative strategy can only move on when the

client's briefs allow it to. "Nick said he wanted fresh thinking, but he

kept on preventing us from demonstrating any fresh thought," he

claims.



Whatever the reasons for the delay, Egg needs to start thinking about

marketing itself differently.



Growth in the number of new customers has slowed in recent times -

something that Cross and his bosses cannot afford to ignore. While the

company attracted 83,000 customers in this year's third quarter to bring

it to 1.8 million, the figure is less than this time last year, when

107,000 joined the bank.



And a direct mail campaign launched on 10 September, designed to take

advantage of the normal increase in volumes in the month, failed because

of the US terrorist attack, meaning that conversion rates were

significantly below expectation.



Although the City is expecting Egg to reach its target of breaking even,

there is some scepticism as to whether it will prove sustainable.

Growing competition in the shape of Halifax's IF.com and Abbey

National's Cahoot.com, coupled with the effects of a slower economy on

consumer spending, isn't likely to help.



It will be Mother's charge to continue the original success of the

product.



"Egg's success depends on the brand becoming more inclusive and widening

its customer base," Calcraft says.



Still, the appointment has surprised some in the industry, as Mother

might not seem the likely starting point for a European launch. While it

has proven its national credentials through business such as Batchelors

Super Noodles and Kiss, HHCL, for one, will be eyeing its progress with

sceptical interest.



"Mother, in its own way, is a very good agency. Although what it hasn't

done is preside over a major brand shift," Burridge says.



Calcraft sees Mother's appointment as the natural progression from work

the agency has done for Coca-Cola, Pedigree Masterfoods and Super

Noodles.



Still, eyes are on how the single agency will service Egg's European

needs.



HHCL, which is still on a six-month notice, had provisionally formed a

bespoke network to service the company's needs abroad. Mother's approach

may well be similar.



"In looking to extend our ideas we'll look to team up with like-minded

partners on the continent. These may be existing networks, other

independent agencies or individual teams," Calcraft says.



And the agency has gained experience on financial brands following its

work on Marbles, the mass-market credit card from HFC bank, which it

resigned recently. Some, perhaps predictably, are still not

convinced.



"If you said which was a more effective launch of communications, the

launch of Marbles or Egg, you wouldn't have to get up very early in the

morning to know that it's Egg," Burridge gripes.



Still, faced with the current economic climate and growing competition,

Egg needs to work on boosting its cross-selling figures across its range

of finance products, which includes a credit card, mortgages, loans and

insurance.



It's down to Mother now to transform a quirky financial product into an

inclusive and empathetic brand. Only in confirming Egg's position as

leader of the online banking sector can it prove the validity of Cross'

decision.