Martin Clunes driving ban leaves agency WCRS with a doggy dilemma

It says something for Martin Clunes that we will miss him co-fronting those Churchill insurance commercials. The actor, goofier and more touchy-feely in real life than his dour Doc Martin persona suggests, nevertheless has a strong competitive streak in him which has proved his undoing. After a belting performance in a BMW 6 Series during a Top Gear episode long ago, the adrenaline rush has gone to his head – and he has now maxed out on speeding penalty points. Loss of his driving licence is clearly incompatible with a role as brand ambassador for a “safety-first” financial services company.

WCRS, the ad agency which has handled the Churchill account since almost time immemorial, tells us it has no more Clunes ads in the can. Whether, after a year, Clunes really had run his course as an ad property or the agency is simply trying to make a virtue of necessity with a face-saving statement, I have no idea. The fact remains that Clunes’ partnership with the near-monosyllabic animatronic bulldog mascot will prove a hard act to follow.

Branding devices that create instant recognition like the Churchill bulldog are marketing gold dust. But they are also a cross to bear for the agency handling the account. Many years ago, I well remember Tony Toller, creative director of Davidson Pearce – the agency then in charge of the notorious ‘Chimps’ Brooke Bond PG Tips account – lamenting that he hadn’t gone into the ad business to become an animal trainer. The very simplicity of the branding device constrains creativity and makes evolution in new market conditions extremely difficult. The Andrex labrador puppy is another case in point.

Clunes indisputably opened a new chapter in the nodding dog saga. Not since John Prescott departed from the political stage had ‘Churchill’ found such a natural human doppelgänger. The result of the pairing was a series of Wallace & Gromit-style antics that far transcended other, recent, comedic endorsements of the brand.

The question for WCRS – and indeed, for the bulldog himself – is: where to now?

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About Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith is one of the most incisive and knowledgeable commentators on global marketing. He was a long-time editor of Marketing Week during the period when it was the UK's leading marketing, media and advertising specialist publication. Visit Stuart Smith Blog.