It is one of the oldest tricks in the advertising book to use
everyday items as a benchmark for the price of your own product - ie
something you think is expensive is only the cost of three boxes of
A couple of years ago, when BT wanted consumers to reappraise the cost
of phone calls, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO ran a series of posters
comparing the price of five minutes chat to the price of carrots and a
half pint of beer. Striking ads, they spoke the language of the man in
Now the Prudential is using the same technique to sell pensions. ’A
couple of pints a night? Is that too much to pay for a comfortable
pension?’ a poster asks. The same strategy and, coincidentally I’m sure,
the same agency - not that the man in the street cares about either.
What he might care about, however, is the premise implicit in the ad
that this isn’t a lot of money. A moment’s thought - and several
colleagues here had done the same calculation - reveals that two pints a
night at pounds 2 a pint (more if you drink lager in London) costs
pounds 28 a week or pounds 112 a month. Their reaction, like mine, was:
’At that price, no thanks.’
Marketing pensions is the brief from hell. You can’t scare people by
showing impoverished pensioners. So most pension sellers accentuate the
positive. In the early 90s, Legal & General showed people’s joy at the
receipt of unexpectedly large pension cheques, and last year the Pru
showed people using their pensions to fulfil their dreams. But the fact
that this has now been abandoned suggests it wasn’t effective
The Pru has clearly concluded that price is the major obstacle to buying
a pension, coupled with inertia. Judging by my own experience, I’d say
it was right. But either it doesn’t know what a pint costs or it doesn’t
think pounds 28 a week is a lot of money. Whatever, it has lost that
vital point of contact with the man in the street. Which leaves me with
one last thought: if women increasingly make or influence household
decisions on pensions, why is this ad aimed at men?
Recently, a publisher sought to defend a libel case by claiming his
paper’s circulation was so small the libel was of no consequence.
Last week, wearing his hat as president of ISBA, Simon Bullimore of Mars
mounted a defence of advertising against the creeping onset of
regulation dressed up as Euro consumerism.
In many respects, it was an exemplary argument - except for one thing.
Quoting an Exeter Univer-sity study of child-ren and advertising which
showed that only 2 per cent of the responses named branded products,
Bullimore concluded that advertising had little influence on
This is a parallel with the publisher’s libel defence. Defending
advertising by claiming it makes little difference is an invitation to
legislators to close it down.
Better surely for the industry to demonstrate the benefits of
advertising to society as a whole: choice, information, funding the
media and, above all, economic prosperity through competitive advantage.