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Is Churchill’s ‘Churchie’ the Top Dog in UK advertising?

April 2021

When it comes to the UK’s most distinctive of brand assets, not many can compete with Churchill Insurance’s British bulldog, having been a mainstay of the company’s communications for nearly 30 years. ‘Churchie’, as he is fondly known, has done lots of “growing up” over that time, with his appearance changing as technology has evolved and Churchill’s advertising budgets have increased – albeit the connection to Churchill has only intensified as the years have passed. 

This makes ‘Churchie’ an asset any brand would be envious to call their own. Such a device not only delivers instant, unmistakable recognition for the brand, but also provides shortcuts to associations recalled by years of reinforcement – be it emotional cues or more product-related impressions.  

We were intrigued by ‘Churchie’s newest incarnation as an incredibly realistic CGI non-talking hound, together with the brand’s shift from comedy to a more relaxed and casual vibe. We wondered if ‘Churchie’ could still bring the (pow)-wow factor in his latest form, and whether relying solely on a mascot to do all an ad’s heavy lifting could work.

To assess the effectiveness of ‘Slide’, we tested it using our three C’s framework.

  • Captivate: Does it attract and retain attention, and engage in an emotional way?
  • Connect: Does it leverage unique branding properties to create instant recognition?
  • Compel: Does it leave people with a lasting impression about the brand?

Captivate

'Churchie' was the unquestionable highlight of the ad, proving one of advertising’s most classic wisdoms – that cute animals and children are highly effective mechanisms for triggering emotional warmth. This wouldn’t come as any surprise to Churchill, who all the way back in the 90’s intended the use of man’s best friend as a shortcut to emotion, along with prompting familiarity and trust.

In-line with the brand’s new ‘Chur-chill’ positioning, ‘Slide’ conveyed a highly relaxed and laid-back mood and feel. While positively received, the exceptionally passive approach struggled to grab and sustain people’s attention. This creative style greatly contrasted Churchill’s brash and attention-grabbing bobblehead campaign from years gone past.

It also contrasted the tone set by another automotive services brand, the AA, who recently launched their own canine mascot – ‘Tukker’. Not only did ‘Tukker’ come across as livelier and more playful, but he was also complemented by a more upbeat soundtrack – subsequently building greater engagement and emotional involvement.

Churchill Ad Testing - Slide - Captivate Metrics

Connect

While the campaign featuring a bobblehead version of ‘Churchie’ ran for over 20 years, the transition to a life-like CGI bulldog didn’t detract from the indelible connection to Churchill – he’s still easily one of the most identifiable assets we’ve ever seen. This was made even more remarkable by ‘Churchie’s use in a setting devoid of any supporting category cues – such strong recognition can only be achieved through many years of cultivation and arduous consistency.  

Churchill Advertising Testing - Slide - Connect Metrics

Compel

Another positive effect of a familiar brand cue like ‘Churchie’ is the mental shortcuts created to established brand associations. Despite the move to a more contemporary and modern creative style, viewers were still left with the perception that Churchill is a ‘leading’ brand. 

However, ‘Slide’ struggled to translate ‘Churchie’s equity into meaningful impressions about Churchill. While almost everyone mentioned ‘Churchie’ when recalling the ad’s most salient aspects, just a quarter explicitly connected the metaphor of ‘Churchie’ overcoming a flat spot on the slide, to the sense of comfort you get when covered by Churchill Insurance.

Churchill Ad Testing - Slide - Compel Metrics

Conclusion

The response to ‘Slide’ left us in no doubt that CGI ‘Churchie’ remains an incredibly powerful mascot and testament to the value of consistency. Given the move to a considerably more passive tone of voice, it was imperative ‘Churchie’ still delivered unquestionably as a brand cue – which he did incredibly successfully. However, despite this, the ad was still only an average performer overall, which provides us with learnings for both the untapped potential of the ongoing ‘Chur-chill’ campaign, but also for any brand either using – or thinking about using – a mascot:

  • A successful mascot embodies the brand – they represent the brand’s persona. A change in personality – in this case a more chilled, more docile, and overall less ‘outspoken’ mascot – will follow through to a change in brand identity. Be careful to ensure this carry-over effect was intended.
  • A strong mascot becomes a celebrity over time, but caution must be taken to ensure they don’t become the entire ad themselves. While all advertising needs to ‘connect’ to the brand (or in other words be ‘recognizable’), to be effective it also needs to ‘captivate’ and ‘compel’. In order for advertising to deliver commercial effects, brands must leverage the emotional advantage a great asset affords them, while ensuring people are left with a meaningful impression about the brand.
Churchill Insurance Ad Testing - Performance Summary

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We were supported by market research technology platform Cint to collect data from respondents in the UK.

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