A provincial insurer became a household name with a quirky ad strategy.
Insurance is not often cited as a product that inspires ground-breaking
advertising. Yet at the International Advertising festival at Cannes,
commercials from a little-known Dutch insurance company - Centraal
Beheer - have been regularly picking up prize after prize.
Over the past ten years the group, which is based in the Dutch town of
Apeldoorn, and its agency, DDB Amsterdam, has created its own brand of
distinctive advertising through a blend of wit and stunning visuals.
It’s an advertising strategy which has won the group several lions over
the years, and has been pretty successful at winning it friends and new
business at home, too.
Centraal Beheer’s slogan - ‘Insurance claim? Ring Apeldoorn!’ - is
almost a household saying now in Holland, with a staggering nine out of
ten people able to identify what it stands for. Even better, during the
last decade, Centraal Beheer has jumped from 12th to fourth place in the
pecking order of Dutch insurance companies.
The insurer’s commercials are subtly humorous, visually stimulating and
always have an unexpected ending. Perhaps the most famous is a film that
collected a gold lion at the Cannes advertising festival and the Grand
Award from the New York festivals in 1993.
It opens with a grainy black-and-white sequence showing a ship being
loaded. Various accidents are waiting to happen - such as a chain
breaking - but never actually do. As the captain makes his final
inspection, though, the viewer sees the ship’s name - Titanic - painted
on the bows. ‘Just call us’ then flashes on the screen.
Another film features a Rastafarian on a scooter painting the central
white lines on a narrow mountain road. He swerves to avoid a hedgehog
and nearly disappears over the edge. Finally, he manages to pull his
vehicle back on to the road and cheerfully continues on his way. Behind
him, though, the white line he was painting still perilously leads over
the precipice. What, the viewer is left thinking, will happen when other
vehicles follow? Again, the Centraal Beheer slogan flashes up on screen.
Later, the theme was taken up in a film about tattoos, where a sailor
walks into a tattoo parlour and chooses a heart to be inked into his
shoulder. The Chinese tattooist is halfway through the process when he
gets a phone call and starts bellowing into the receiver. As he has
nothing else to hand he uses his tattoo needle and makes notes on the
The Centraal Beheer commercials are always technically well put together
and television is an appropriate lead medium for the company. More
detailed information is conveyed through back-up print advertising,
posters and specialised direct marketing.
Centraal Beheer is a so-called ‘direct writer’ and works without
middlemen. Its enormous success began when the company’s then head of
communications, Aad Muntz, approved the strategy that DDB outlined to
him and gave it the scope and the budget to make the trademark
Muntz, now retired, has a sharp sense of humour and appreciated DDB’s
‘twist in the tail’ theme. It was a universally successful ploy and
there was hardly a national or international advertising festival where
Muntz and the DDB creative directors, Paul Meijer and Wim Ubachs, and
later, Lode Schaeffer and Erik Wunsch, didn’t appear on the podium to
pick up an award.
Schaeffer, 32, and Wunsch, 34, have been a creative team for more than
eight years. They were ‘discovered’ and taken on by Paul Meijer, but
learned their trade from Bart Kuiper at Lowe Kuiper and Schouten. Wunsch
and Schaeffer are super-disciplined, intelligent creatives. They are
seldom spotted at parties or receptions or even at the usual advertising
watering holes. Which is perhaps whyÿ20they have carried on the tradition
of Centraal Beheer’s unusually quirky advertising so well.