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One minister and his dogs

It was the one they had all been waiting for. Not since TV screens crackled with the chemistry between the Gold Blend couple has an advertising campaign generated so much excitement. Well, in the pension world, anyway.

Ahead of the press screening, intense speculation surrounded the Government&#39s £6.5m TV ad drive. It was a preciously guar ded secret and those who had been privy to advance screenings had been sworn to secrecy.

Two contacts told Money Mar keting they had been war ned not to speak to the press, so as not to steal the thunder of Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling.

But one brave (or loose-lip ped) pension expert knew some one who knew someone and was happy to tell us what he had found out, which was two words – “working” and “dogs”.

Sadly, the tip-off was not enough for MM to run a spoi ler on the campaign but kept the rumour mill going for an afternoon.

Suggestions that Bob Carol gees and Spit the dog had been lured out of retirement to perform the noble task of helping the Govern ment privatise pension provision swept the MM newsdesk.

Perhaps other working dogs, too, had been drafted in to do their bit for the great stakeholder campaign. Had the DSS assembled an army of St Bernards, huskies, guide dogs, gun dogs, police dogs and sniffer dogs to round up the great unpensioned and usher them into their high-street bank to buy a stakeholder pension?

What about the soundtrack? “Who let the dogs out?”, “You ain&#39t nothing but a hound dog” or perhaps “How much is that doggy in the window?”?

Tantalisingly, the press invitation asked camera crews to arrive early to snap Darling posing with the working dogs ahead of the screening.

Today, at long last, all can be revealed. The TV campaign consists of a series of five ads featuring sheep dogs chatting about what the future might hold. One dog offers to lend his companion his handy DSS guide on options at retirement.

During the screening, DSS officials blushed with pride as one member of the audience laughed out loud. Other journalists were more cynical.

It&#39s doubtful, perhaps, that a dog with the voice of the bloke from the Royle family will make people realise that, if they do not save for their retirement they may end up in abject poverty. Of course, Darling was at pains to point out that the state pension will remain the foundation of pension provision.

But there is definitely something to be said about the softly, softly approach.

At least the clever doggies will not have people scrabbling for the TV remote control when they come on. Pop ular culture has told us that, from Deputy Dawg to Goofy and Scooby Doo, audiences make time for dogs who talk. So the campaign&#39s conception should pro bably be given the thumbs up.

Perhaps punters faced with a more hard-hitting message about the last 20 years of their lives being thoroughly miserable would react like rabbits caught in headlights.

But measuring the effectiveness of the campaign in terms of turning the public&#39s amusement into action was not something that Darling would be drawn on.

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