OPINION: Mills on ... Norwich Union, dominic.mills@haynet.com

Briefly, let me start this column in my finest Michael Caine mode: name the tenth-largest advertiser on radio in 2001.

Gotcha! The answer is, of course, Robin Lloyd Associates (who he?) which, incidentally, spent more than the likes of Camelot, Toyota and Procter & Gamble.

If, like me, the name scarcely registers, don't worry. Most readers of this column won't be in the target market - yet. Robin Lloyd is in the business of buying endowment and pension annuity policies - you know, the ones that aren't going to be worth what those snake-oil salesmen swore blind they would be when your mortgage or pension matures.

Think of Robin Lloyd as the ambulance chaser of the financial services sector. And the ambulances it is chasing have been rescuing consumers injured in the multiple car pile-up caused by the reckless driving of the financial services industry.

Against that background, and in view of the prevailing stock market trend, you might think that the most sensible option for the major financial services companies would be to keep their heads down and conserve their marketing budgets until the storm blows over and the consumer trust that they've done so much to destroy is at least repaired, if not restored.

However, some of the big players are spending big money. The enigmatic Scottish Widow is prancing round her lighthouse. The Pru has discovered the joy of poetry a la Pam Ayres. Clive James and Dame Edna are rhapsodising about AMP.

And now Norwich Union has discovered trawlermen. Its new ad by McCann-Erickson features a Geordie fisherman telling how he's dead relaxed because, thanks to loads of impartial advice from Norwich Union, he's got all his finances sorted.

Miraculoso. If he has, he must be the only trawlerman from Aberdeen to Cornwall in such a happy state. My impression is that the only sector more bombed out than farming is fishing. One way or another, expensive European Commission safety regulations, quotas, rapacious Spanish fishing fleets and cod bans are squeezing fishing to death.

But perhaps I'm being too literal. This is advertising, not real life.

To those who've never done it (anybody in Soho or Norwich), there's something romantic and noble about a life that pits man against nature at its most elemental, and sees him triumphantly bring home the sea's harvest. Make the trawlerman an honest-as-the-day-is-long, salt-of-the-earth, canny Geordie and, hey, if he buys his financial services from Norwich Union, there can't be anything wrong with it, can there?

Well, I beg to differ. The ad hinges on the fact that nobody expects a trawlerman to be, in the lingo of the script, financially "sussed".

Indeed they don't, but for the reasons I listed above, not because he's a) a trawlerman and b) a Geordie. Which is why the ad is not only patronising but insulting. And frankly, it's hard to imagine a Geordie of his generation using a word such as sussed at all, let alone to describe his finances.

Which brings us to another problem. We're presented with an idealised, romanticised world where everything's hunky-dory. When everything financial is going upwards, you can understand companies such as Norwich Union selling a dream. But selling a dream in a climate in which millions have seen their hopes of a bright future shattered - how insensitive is that?

The real rubbish, however, is saved for the endline: "Together we're stronger." Eh? Who's this "we" then? So we're all in this together, are we? Yeah, right. I can see how Norwich Union's strength would be a comfort to me, but I certainly can't understand how it works the other way round.

And if my money makes them stronger, then whose benefit is that for? Mine or their's? I think we know the answer to that one.

Dead cert for a Pencil? About as likely as a Gazza comeback.

File under ... T for tosh.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Couldn't you afford Jimmy Nail


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