How Direct Line turned around its brand

Mark Evans: marketing director, Direct Line
Mark Evans: marketing director, Direct Line

Direct Line's advertising effectiveness has surged since relaunching the brand two years ago, its marketing director told Media360 today.

Mark Evans told the conference in Brighton that the insurer had "Amazon-ified" its systems and processes in order to create a new brand proposition of being "the fixer".

Getting Harvey Keitel to reprise the Pulp Fiction character Winston Wolf was the ideal way to tell this story, Evans said, after the marketing team was left "in awe" of the idea when it was pitched to them by Saatchi & Saatchi.

Evans said: "The communications is very strong. It’s not like advertising, it’s a bit like drama, it doesn’t tire and is enjoyable to watch.

"If I take the effectiveness of our TV advertising from before our relaunch to now, it’s improved by 53%. I’ve never been involved in anything like that from an advertising story."

Direct Line appointed Saatchi & Saatchi to its £45m ad account in 2014, ending a nine-year relationship with M&C Saatchi.

Evans described the pitch as "the best I’ve ever seen". He said: "They were dressed as Winston Wolf. The marketing team were in awe. And at the end not a single question was asked, which was quite perplexing. Everyone said there’s no doubt that it’s absolutely brilliant, but can we do that? Believing you can achieve amazing things if the biggest goal. We now believe we’re capable of much more".

This confident attitude stands in stark contrast to before August 2014, when Direct Line was losing thousands of customers per week and was still seen as "the abused child of RBS locked in the cellar for many years," according to Evans. RBS sold its remaining 28% stake in February that year, six years after it was told to sell the business by the government as a condition of its bailout.

Since then, the company went looking for the big brand idea in order to turn around its fortunes. Evans recalled: "The insight was hiding in plain sight. In the end, when you’re knee deep in flooding water, or have had a nasty car accident, what you really need is something that works – it’s as simple as that. 

"Hence the notion of a fixer brand. Insurance in the end is only about fixing, what else can it be? Then of course we have the daddy of fixers [Winston Wolf], albeit he used to clean the brains off the back of the car in Pulp Fiction, he’s still a fixer.

"You might wonder why we had a gangster as a spokesman….. dark humour and a bit of an edge have provided legitimacy to what we’re doing here. Credit to Saatchi & Saatchi for brining that in. It was the best pitch I’ve ever been involved in. And it pretested like nothing else I’ve ever been involved in."

But further changes will need to be made to keep up with the pace of change, Evans added, because the internet of things will completely disrupt the insurance sector.

He said: "All this data means people can better understand risk for themselves, whether that’s through the connected home, car sharing, or looking after your motor car in all its guises, not just insurance. We think we’re fit for purpose and ready to go."

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