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DWP auto-enrolment campaign is a nightmare task

Any advertising or communications agency winning the DWP account intended to promote pension auto-enrolment might think it had died and gone to heaven. If reports of a £10m 2012 budget are correct, that is pretty chunky by any standards, about as much as, say, price comparison sites Go Compare and Moneysupermarket spend on advertising. And for a new Government-funded campaign, in the current climate, it is genuinely extraordinary.

But when they look behind the budget and get to grips with the details of the brief, I suspect they will wonder if heaven is indeed their destination.

Perhaps the four most basic elements of any brief are the identity of the product or service to be promoted, the target audience to be addressed, the proposition to be communicated and what is intended to happen as a result. To me, looking at it from outside, none of these things seems clear.

The “product or service” is not really a product or service at all – it is a concept. What is an auto-enrolment? How do you communicate, within the extreme simplicities of effective advertising and without boring people to tears (or sleep), what it is that you are actually talking about?

Then there are the problems of defining – and reaching – the target audience. For one thing, auto-enrolment will be rolled out over four years. For millions of qualifying employees seeing the 2012 campaign, what will be happening to them in the foreseeable future is nothing. And for another thing, many millions in the public sector and in perfectly satisfactory private sector schemes will not be affected either.

And then the proposition. What will the campaign aim to make us think or feel about this auto-enrolment business? At the simplest level, it must propose that it is a good thing – a sensible and far-sighted part of planning for old age. But even this message is not risk-free. The harder the advertiser (presumably perceived to be the Government) is seen to argue in favour, the more many people will wonder if there is another side to the story.

And finally, the call to action. What do we want people to do about all this? I suspect I know the answer to this, we want them to find out more. There will be a booklet or a website giving the details that are too complicated for the other elements of the campaign. I suppose that is an outcome of sorts but really it is a cop-out. In 2012, the truth is that the huge majority of people do not need to think, feel or do anything much about auto-enrolment or indeed to read a booklet about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in favour of there being a campaign and no doubt by the time it starts to appear, lots of clever people will have grappled with these tricky issues and it will all seem perfectly straightforward.
I think the agencies pitching for the account will see it as the brief from hell and it will take hard work to remove that tang of sulphur and brimstone.

Lucian Camp is principal of Lucian Camp Consulting


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There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Great! £10m to be spent promoting something that employers probably can’t afford, that most employees probably don’t want and without the government having done anything at all to fulfil its pre-election promises to put right all the damage done to pensions over the past 25 years. What a terrific recipe.

    The only reason for advisers to get involved is if they can persuade employers to pay a decent level of fees for the advice they’ll need. It surely won’t be because they actually believe that NEST is the right vehicle via which to fix the country’s lack of retirement provision.

  2. Is it possible that some advisers do believe NEST is a step in the right direction or should they only believe in something they can charge fees for?

  3. They should create a two-minute advert showing something totally irrelevant stolen off YouTube (on the lines of Cadbury’s drumming monkey) with no attribution. Then fade in to a blank screen with “You know it’s…” and no mention of NEST at all.

    It would make no difference to the consumer impact (nil) and they’d win lots of ad industry awards for being so clever.

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