There aren’t many people in the UK who haven’t come across Aleksandr Orlov, which perhaps isn’t surprising, given his wealth, eccentricity and remarkable family history. What is of interest, however, is that he’s fictional. And a meerkat.
What is it about Compare the Market’s meerkat ad campaign that saw them go from ‘also-rans’ in the price comparison industry to being one of the top 5 companies in a matter of months1? And how has the campaign maintained its success, having been going for 6 years now?
A lot of it has to do with some very clever language use. At university, myself and a group of four others2 looked into this aspect of the campaign, and we discovered several key things about how this company markets itself.
First, we need to understand what it is that most ad campaigns do. They essentially run on a principal of ‘disrupted equilibrium’, which isn’t as fancy as it sounds. Equilibrium is a state of balance, and the bottom-line role of adverts is to tell you that your equilibrium is off, and that their company has the power to restore it, generally realised as ‘you have a need; our company can meet that need’3.
Compare the Market were very clever in exploiting this principal. By presenting to us the slightly hapless Aleksandr Orlov and his unfortunate companion, Sergei, they created a reversed version of disrupted equilibrium: ‘our company has a need; you can meet it’. The long and short of it is that the consumer, not the company, appears to have power in that relationship.
How does this work itself out in a successful campaign?
- Subtle Imagery
The very first of their TV ads are some of the best for this. In one, where Aleksandr compares the jingles of his Compare the Meerkat and the real Compare the Market, the audience is drawn in by a genuinely entertaining narrative. Then there’s the thinly disguised plug at the end, where the audience is invited to help Aleksandr by comparing prices on the real website.
This is straightforward enough, but there is an extra layer underneath. Our research found that in the duration of the 21 second ad, 10 seconds – almost half – were spent on the subject of Compare the Market, whereas only 5 seconds were spent on its fictional counterpart. Not only that, but the ad opened and closed with mentions of the real company name. This underlies a humourous ad to ensure that Compare the Market stays firmly fixed in the minds of their viewers.
- Fun, Interactive Website
Perhaps one of the best things about the campaign is the website, comparethemeerkat.com, where you can find the campaign’s history, games, and, links galore to the real company site. One of the website’s most effective functions is that it enforces the idea of the campaign’s audience as a community that is involved with the meerkats. You can see this in their use of pronouns, for example:
Baby Oleg love Africa so much he decide he want to stay with meerpup friends. So Sergei have built clever Memorymabob so we can all remember his cuteness (and naughtiness).
In that example, you can see the appeal to shared experiences, essential in building a community, and the inclusive pronoun, ‘we’, that blends company and consumer into one entity. It’s also a great example of Alexsandr’s distinctive language, which is the final element that I’m going to look at.
- Aleksandr’s language
This point can be divided into two: lexis (the words used) and grammar.
Aleksandr’s lexis is contains mostly standard English words, but occasionally he throws in neologisms (new, original words) that highlight his eccentricity and create humour. Often, this is achieved by sticking ‘-mabob’ on the end of words, like ‘computermabob’, and ‘memorymabob’. As these words normally describe technical things, they suggest that Aleksandr doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about, enforcing the underlying idea that he needs help from consumers.
His grammar is distinctly non-standard, and the main function of this is to highlight his ‘foreignness’. While we may be uncomfortable thinking this, there is nonetheless an implication that because he can’t speak English as well as the audience, he needs our help. This creates an implied power relationship, because we, as an audience, think ourselves more capable than he is, so we’re in a position to help him.
This successful campaign was only possible because of serious thought from Compare the Market’s advertising team. They used a variety of techniques to create a lovable character, with a storyline that involves the audience, and they have created the impression of a power dynamic that is the opposite of a standard ad campaign, whereby the audience thinks they have power over the company. This draws them in, and, with clever scripting and imagery, Compare the Market can take advantage of this state to ensure that their brand stays firmly in the minds of all potential customers.
Shawn is our Content Marketing Manager. To see more about Shawn, including the posts that he’s written, you can find him on LinkedIn. You can also head over to our company page, where you can find all of our posts, latest jobs info, and daily posts to keep you up to date with the latest talking points in the worlds of tech and recruiting.
- Source: Guardian, Jan 2010, ‘How meerkat Aleksandr Orlov helped increase the market TV ads’, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jan/16/aleksander-orlov-price-comparison-ads
- All credit Zora Li, Beth Searby, Sophie Wells and Ping Xiong – I was just a fifth of a fantastic group working on this!
- Source: Hansen, A., Cottle, S., Negrine, R., and Newbold, C. (2010) Mass Communication Research Methods. Basingstoke: Macmillian.