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Shaggy dog story

So, now we have it, the DSS publicity campaign to promote pensions is on our TV screens and in the papers.

The aim of the campaign is to raise public awareness about pensions. The working sheepdogs&#39 theme has presumably been chosen to capitalise on the great British public&#39s well known affection for animals.

Dog lovers will tell you that collies are generally reckoned to be among the most intelligent of working dogs. Cynics might say that this is why they have been chosen for these ads since it might mean they can cope with the complexity of pensions.

Cynicism aside, the importance of this campaign should not be underestimated. At the moment, the ratio of state to private income among pensioners is 60 per cent state to 40 per cent private.

The Government wants to see that ratio reversed so that, in the long term, 60 per cent of pensioner incomes come from private sources, thereby controlling or avoiding further increases and reducing the burden on the state and, by doing so, improving people&#39s standard of living in retirement.

A challenging target indeed, especially in the light of current poor public awareness of and interest in pensions. The DSS press release issued with the launch of the advertising campaign tells us that two in five people in work today have no pension provision other than the state.

It is a safe bet that many of the three in five who do have pension provision should in fact be saving more than they are if they want to look forward to a comfortable retirement.

It is perhaps not surprising that too few people have private pensions when we consider ano ther fact from the DSS res earch, notably that almost half the pop-ulation say that they have no more than a “patchy” knowledge of pensions.

As an aside, the press release also inf orms us that, too often, people think of pensions as complex. I have to say that, whoever these people are, they have a point.

But, to return to the serious issues, this campaign clearly has a challenging target to aim for and some serious obstacles to overcome. The DSS has said that the aim of the campaign is to raise public awareness about pensions and the talking dogs explain clearly where to get information if you want to know more about your pension or are confused about your options.

So, what does the campaign look like? The ads are catchy and funny. At the preview meeting I attended, there was genuine spontaneous laughter at the ads. Let&#39s face it, this is not something you would normally associate with either pensions or Government information.

Designed to appeal to a very wide audience, basically everyone over the age of 18, the ads use the voices of well known actors to tell people where to get information on their pension options.

The first wave of ads runs until March, presumably to allow the sheepdogs to get back to their day jobs in time for the lambing season.

The total cost of the campaign is about £6.5m, which includes not only the advertising campaign itself but also funds a helpline number which people can call to get copies of various leaflets.

The leaflets themselves are very comprehensive. In addition to an overview of pensions, there are separate leaflets on state pensions, occupational pensions, personal pensions, pensions for women, pensions for the self-employed, contracted-out pensions and stakeholder pensions. In other words, everything you ever wanted to know about pensions but were afraid to ask.

There is also a dedicated website, www.pensionguide.gov.uk, which you can access either directly or through the main DSS site.

No one could disagree that raising awareness of pensions should be a central aim of the campaign but, alongside the need to raise awareness of pensions, we must also convince people that they need pensions.

However, the campaign deals with the need for pensions in a far from direct manner. Jane Horrocks dreams of a palatial pink kennel in the sun but the overall emphasis is firmly on information and where to find it.

This does rather beg the question as to whether the message on the need is strong enough. After all, people have to believe that they need a pension before they will be interested in where to find information.

On a more specific issue, there is also the question of advice. For as long as pensions remain complex, and that certainly seems to mean for the foreseeable future, many people will continue to need advice.

Looking at the detail of the leaflets, IFAs could be forgiven if they are disappointed that the message on the need for advice is not stronger.

For example, when reading the stakeholder pensions leaflet, I could not find any mention of advice until page 21 when it is mentioned briefly in connection with contracting out.

General advice on pension options and stakeholder is not in fact mentioned until page 32, which is more than three-quarters of the way through the leaflet. The length of the leaflets is a big concern and is, I fear, likely to frighten off all but the most determined readers.

But this campaign is about raising pensions awareness and cannot be expected to cover every angle. It is really good to see this level of commitment from government to raising public awareness of pensions. It is also excellent to see that the campaign is broad based, aiming to raise awareness of all types of pensions rather than focusing just on stakeholder pensions. This contrasts strongly with the single-focus app roach of the personal pension campaigns of late 80s and is to be applauded.

The DSS will be monitoring the success of this campaign. “Before and after” research of public awareness of pensions will be one measure. The number of pensions leaflets issued by the helpline will be another. Most obviously, one would assume that increased take-up of private pension would be a third.

So, we have an appealing and humorous campaign that demonstrates genuine Government commitment to raising pensions awareness. This message of awareness does need to be underpinned by the basic truth that people need pensions, which is a message that the whole industry has a responsibility to promote. But promoting public awareness can only be good for all concerned.

Margaret Craig Manager (pensions development),Scottish Equitable

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