Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Meerkats, Markets and the Masquerade

Its 2008, the great recession is ablaze and you are the head honcho at the small time, underperforming and frankly boring insurance comparison site living in fear of becoming liquidated into some kind of bland, beige, instantly forgettable smoothie. How do you dodge the bullet? Simples. A whole new marketing scheme fronted by a bunch of enterprising anthropomorphic meerkats, who appear to have successfully invaded and colonised an area in the former USSR from which they operate a multi-million dollar meerkat comparison site; an idea which one can only imagine being pitched on a rainy afternoon in Peterborough to a boardroom full of insurance big wigs outfitted like an ironic M&S ad. The rest as they say- is history.

So how have these lucrative rodents become commercial heroes? The same reason Vannesa Feltz didn’t get an offer- they’re sexy! Their good-looking image combined with their ascribed hilarity is perceived as cute and despite sounding like a Russian Yoda their attractiveness makes them effective communicators (Chaiken, 1979). We as the consumer gravitate to this and associate our positive feelings with the product and eventually feel more inclined to purchase (Lott & Lott, 1965). In terms of relative positioning in the insurance comparison industry this had the same effect as superimposing an Andrex puppy the size of a horse onto the GoCompare bloke’s smug, fat face.

We are now given the opportunity to own a cuddly comrade, with us the general public happy to purchase insurance from the site, providing they ram a free stuffed meerkat down our throats to sweeten the deal. Why? According to the reciprocity principle we interpret this as a favour (Onur-Bodhur & Grohmann, 2005). As are so kind in not only providing what we pay for but being prepared to shift a stuffed animal from a niche market Toys’R’Us for every policy sold, we feel obliged to insure our car with them (Adloff, 2006).

With insurance requiring annual renewal and loyalty generally requiring more incentive than convenience (Srinivassan et al., 2002) there needs to be something that persuades us to resist change. Although a meerkat toy may not bear all the practicality of a pen or a poxy Tesco voucher, it ties into our affections for the brand as a whole on another level to all the usual conventional crap shoved under our noses. The sneaky rodents use their cuddly exterior to infiltrate our homes and become an undercover piece of ubiquitous advertising, strongly strengthening brand commitment. There may well be other sites out there wanting to poach you for a cheaper deal but then why on earth would you want that when you’re still yet to add Sergei to your collection? With 7 toys up for grabs and only one issued per policy then unless you’re sad enough to go through eBay the only way you’re getting the gang together is by accepting the subtle Pokemonesque challenge laid before you, implicating long-term commitment (Amine, 1998). Judging by the latest ad which mentions nothing of the benefits of insuring with other than the prospect of becoming the proud owner of new addition ‘baby Oleg’ who is made marginally more attractive than his elders with his more favourable head-eye size ratio and inability to speak- the tactic works. One can only assume a MoneySupermarket ad depicting an obnoxious slow loris voiced over by a 5 year old with a lisp is imminent.


Adloff, F. (2006). Beyond interests and norms: Toward a theory of gift-giving and reciprocity in modern societies. Constellations, 13, 407-427.
Amine, A. (1998). Consumer’s true brand loyalty: the central role of commitment. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 6, 305-319.
Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 37, 1387-1389.
Lott, B., & Lott, A. (1960). The formation of positive attitudes toward group members. Journal of Abnormal & Social Psychology, 61¸297-300.
Onur-Bodur, H., & Grohmann, B. (2005). Consumer responses to gift receipt in business to consumer contexts. Psychology & Marketing, 22, 441-456.
Srinavasan, S. S., Anderson, R., & Ponnavolu, C. (2002). Customer loyalty in e-commerce: an exploration of its antecedents and consequences. Journal of Retailing, 78, 41-50.

Rory MacLeod


  1. This is so true on so many areas that it will make many people squirm a little but it won't stop them being drawn in.

  2. Im not sure i buy the argument that we see meerkats as attractive! But apart from that this is brilliantly put together. Well done.


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