Is DWP’s ‘Workie’ really a colossal waste of money?

What is 10 feet tall, has two horns and is covered in multi-coloured fur?

Well, if you believe some members of the advice community, the answer is a complete waste of money.

It is fair to say the reveal of “Workie” and the Department for Work and Pensions’ new marketing campaign to promote workplace pensions has been met with a degree of scepticism.

The creation has been compared to a “Sesame Street” monster that will distract all attention from the campaign’s core message, and that a budget of £8.5m for 2015/16 is a waste of Government funds.

As a sceptical journalist, I am dubious of the merits of the campaign too. But I am starting to wonder.

Prior to joining Money Marketing I spent a couple of years covering the general insurance market, which has been irrevocably changed by the arrival of price comparison sites.

Go Compare,, MoneySuperMarket, Compare The Market and more have all left car insurers struggling to build any sort of lengthy relationship with their customers.

But business models aside, what do all four of these sites have in common?

Huge, great, sweeping marketing campaigns. And in the case of two of the four, those campaigns are led by child-friendly collectible toys.

The introduction of meerkats, in particular, brought previously unconsidered pester power to insurance markets, with children (and many adults far too old for this sort of thing) nagging their families to get the latest toy.

The DWP is yet to unveil the full sweep of the Workie marketing campaign, and I am told there are currently “no plans” for an official cuddly toy, but the character has clearly been designed to make Little Timmy pull on daddy’s sleeve to ask about the cute monster.

And that could also be the thinking behind the prime time slot bought for the campaign. The very first adverts debuted this week between Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

We have also heard arguments that such a position does not target any particular consumer, let alone the small and micro business owners supposedly in the DWP’s crosshairs.

And that is true. That Corrie slot is family time. But that argument does not factor in that while those business owners are the targets of the campaign, any new marketing launch needs eyeballs first and foremost.

And secondly, the more eyeballs, the greater the potential for that pester power, and the greater the broader awareness of the campaign.

At the same time, we all know the cost of this fuss.

Total campaign costs of £8.5m for the 2015/16 has certainly raised anger in the mainstream press, which is only too keen to point out the cuts ongoing elsewhere in the DWP.

Telegraph sketch writer Michael Deacon succinctly summed up the problem when he tweeted: “George Osborne: “We will live within our means by making difficult decisions on spending.” DWP: *spends £8.5m on pensions Honey Monster*.”

However, DWP staffers say the cost remains broadly in line with previous workplace pensions campaigns, including the “I’m in” auto-enrolment adverts, which featured Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis and Baroness Brady.

That £8.5m bill will, of course, increase. And it is not clear if that includes the money spent by the DWP towards Workie’s design. The planned life span of the campaign is between two and three years, with Workie set for outings until the final businesses enrol their staff in 2018.

As a final note, I would also like to mention the role of the pensions minister in this campaign.

It has been suggested that Baroness Altmann had a personal hand in the design of Workie.

This may, or may not, work out to be so much bluster from the DWP, and it certainly would not be surprising if Ros’ role has been overstated.

But if it is true, the personal involvement of the minister in this kind of campaign shows an actual desire to be involved at a pretty granular level.

Ultimately there is no guarantee that Workie, frankly, will work. But it seems fair to give this giant lummox, and the DWP’s new mascot for workplace pensions, the benefit of the doubt.

Mark Sands is politics reporter at Money Marketing