Will Workie work?

Peter Walker

Last night saw the debut of the government’s latest advert to raise awareness around workplace pensions, via a large, furry, multi-coloured creature named ‘Workie’.

You may or may not have seen the spot, nestled between Emmerdale and Coronation Street, but its announcement earlier in the day certainly got the industry talking, which as they say in marketing, means it must be doing something right.

The thing is, while journalists and pensions experts opined, this campaign is targeted at the 1.8m small business owners who will be required by law to auto-enrol their employees into a pension scheme over the next few years.

Recent research by The Pensions Regulator showed that almost two-thirds of these small and micro-employers were not clear on their staging dates and risk fines for non-compliance.

Now: Pensions reported this week that of the companies it has signed up during the last three months, over a third completed their application either very close to, or after their deadline had passed.

A significant proportion of the nation will certainly be turned into ITV at that time, but whether they take any notice of this monster and his message of “don’t ignore the workplace pension”, remains to be seen.

Clearly some creative guru saw Dragon’s Den’s Theo Paphitis and The Apprentice’s Karren Brady’s previous effort and figured a radical departure was required to grab the nation’s attention.

A statement from the Department for Work and Pensions claimed that Workie is “a striking physical embodiment of the workplace pension” featuring in “humorous ads that come with a serious message”.

Pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann was apparently personally involved in designing Workie, proving how proud she was of her creation by having his big, blue face as her Twitter profile picture; much to the amusement/bemusement of the social network’s users.

The new campaign will include radio, print, online and outdoor advertising and will run for the remainder of this year and into 2016, in joint co-ordination with The Pensions Regulator.

While the DWP would not be drawn on how much the campaign cost, it has budgeted £8.54m advertising campaigns during this financial year.

FTAdviser canvassed some industry reaction, with adviser like Carl Lamb stating “it strikes a light heated and helpful tone” and Colin Roger adding “I suppose any publicity is better than no publicity”.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Tom McPhail pointed out that “just because it looks a bit daft, doesn’t mean it might not work”, adding that he would like to see the DWP publish the behavioural research they conducted which led to the conclusion that this is indeed a good use of public money, as well as the metrics they have identified to subsequently measure the success of the campaign.

“Whacky ideas are all well and good but they still require accountability,” he said.

Broadstone’s technical director David Brooks commented that while comparisons with other furry animals in adverts are valid to an extent, it is unlikely the government can afford the sort of blanket coverage which has created household familiarity for a certain comparison website’s meerkats.