Direct Line says goodbye to Winston Wolfe

Wolfe has been replaced by RoboCop, Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bumblebee of the Transformers.

Direct Line: character first introduced in Pulp Fiction
Direct Line: character first introduced in Pulp Fiction

After a long and chequered career as Hollywood’s sharp-tongued problem-solver, Winston "The Wolf" Wolfe is finally retiring as the face of Direct Line.

Portrayed by Harvey Keitel, Wolfe – of Pulp Fiction fame – first joined Direct Line in 2014, marking a new positioning for the brand as the ultimate "fixer" for people with Direct Line insurance.

The first ad narrowly escaped a ban from the Advertising Standards Authority due to complaints that it was "misleading". That said, Mark Evans, marketing director, marketing and digital, at Direct Line, claimed the brand’s marketing team was left "in awe" of the idea when it was first pitched by Saatchi & Saatchi, which was appointed to the business that same year.

Wolfe’s highlights include 2015’s "Hens", "Cocoa" and, most recently, "Tracey on ice" last year.

In his place, Direct Line has launched a campaign starring RoboCop, Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bumblebee from Transformers

Created by Saatchi & Saatchi London with VFX and character animation by The Mill, "We’re on it" follows the Hollywood heroes as they skate, accelerate and (in the case of Bumblebee) jump over a moving train in an attempt to help people in need. Things take an anticlimactic turn, however, when each character finds they’ve been bettered by a Direct Line employee.

Launched alongside social media, out-of-home and radio activity, as well as a partnership with Twitter via the hashtag #outheroed, the work was created by Will Brookwell and Will Helm, and directed by Bryan Buckley through Hungry Man. Media is handled by MediaCom.

This marks the first time Direct Line has brought all of its personal and business product lines together for a campaign. It is set to make its TV debut at 9:15pm tonight (Friday) across ITV, Channel 4 and Sky simultaneously, with a predicted reach of 7.5 million people for the launch.

 

"Wolfe’s campaign has been hugely successful and still continues to be, but we have to make sure that we're future-proofing ourselves," Wendy Moores, head of marketing at Direct Line, told Campaign.

"The world's changing, insurance is changing and we need to make sure that we've got creative material that's fit and ready to stand the tests of time. We could have continued with Winston for a number of years to come, but we would rather make that decision now than get to a stage where we have to make a change."

Direct Line isn’t the first brand to enlist TV characters from decades past. In 2016, Halifax (and Adam & Eve/DDB) began providing "entertaining advice" to personalities including Top Cat, Fred and Wilma from The Flintstones, the cast of Scooby-Doo and even Dorothy and the gang from The Wizard of Oz, with visual effects also provided by The Mill.

Moores said: "The difference between this campaign and what Halifax released is that you cannot retell the story without talking about the brand. These are proper brand ads and we're using the proposition to help with brand comprehension, whereas none of us can quite remember whether those ads were Halifax or Nationwide. 

"We can remember the characters, but we can't remember the products or anything about what they were trying to say about that brand, and so they were properly borrowing on the equity of pop culture."

In 2017, Donatello made a cameo in Virgin Media’s "This is Virgin fibre" spot (created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty London) alongside Usain Bolt, Iron Lord Hunter and Southampton FC.

However, Direct Line’s depiction of the pizza-loving amphibian was created based on the classic concept for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which first hit the small screen in 1987.

Frankie Goodwin, creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, said: "The Mill did justice to a character [Bumblebee] that was literally a tennis ball on a stick when we were on set. Donatello was a strange short man in a pair of green tights. It's very easy to write 'Transformer dude' in the script, but bringing that to life to the same quality as what people know and love is a leap of faith. 

"It has been wonderful to design Donnie with Viacom Nickelodeon based on the original characters and we've heard early comments that we've revived the childhood turtles that people really loved."

While Goodwin claims that there is a wealth of characters the campaign may choose to adopt moving forward, Donnie, Bumblebee and RoboCop are expected to feature in the campaign for the next 12 months.

Sarah Jenkins, managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi London, added: "There's so much joy in the scalability and the longevity of the idea that no-one is better than Direct Line – not even superheroes. We don't need to show a superhero to use that idea."