Using neuro-research to refresh a brand property: Churchill the dog

Just back from Marketing Week Live, a veritable bonanza of talks and exhibitors. This is the first of series of posts on the event, showing how insurance brand Churchill used neuro-research to help refresh a powerful brand property: Churchill the dog

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1. Distinctive properties as brand assets 

Churchill the dog is one of the best examples of a powerful brand property. As Churchill’s Head of Marketing, Lucy Brooksbank, explained: “Churchill is our biggest brand asset helping create market-leading awareness despite only having the 6th spend highest spend in the insurance market.” Churchill has been used by the company for 12 years to build distinctive memory structure, helping the brand by top-of-mind when people consider which insurer to use.

2. Branding x engagement = encoding

Churchill the dog’s effectiveness is driven by several factors.

First, the property is the brand is the property: he’s Churchill the dog. This helps drive brandname awareness. But the branding goes much deeper. He’s not just any dog, he’s a British bulldog, the breed favoured by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The brand property evokes associations such as reliability, strength and loyalty, just what you want in an insurance company. This is an example of “borrowed memory structure”, where a brand can tap into associations people already have in their brains.

The second factor that helps Churchill create distinctive memory structure is the characters emotional connection with consumers. “Memory encoding is key, but emotion drives this,” explained Heather Andrew of Nuero Insight.

3. Refreshing the campaign

Lucy and the Churchill team recognised the need to refresh the Churchill campaign last year. This is key to create “fresh consistency”. And hats off to them for doing this in a structured, data-based way.

The brand had been using celebrities to partner with Churchill, such as UK TV star Dawn French (see below). However, with marketing budgets under pressure, the team was asked to explore alternative approaches, without having to pay big sums for celebrities.

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Part of the magic in the brand’s communication was to have a “sparring partner” for the dog, as he can’t say or do much!. So, a first attempt used cheaper, less well known celebrities. But this confused the story. This led to a new idea of bringing to life inanimate objects, such as tyres and furniture, and have them talk with Churchill. You can see an example for home insurance below on the blog, or here.

4. Researching the campaign with neuro insight

The Churchill team used Neuro Insight UK to explore brain responses to the new campaign, to confirm that the non-celebrity execution was still effective. The research measured electrical responses to the communication using headsets on over 100 people and measured memory encoding, engagement and emotional intensity (positive vs negative).

In the picture below you can see Heather from Neuro Insight presenting the results, which mapped brain responses at each stage of the advert (cool eh?). The peaks in brain response were highlighted, and crucially these coincided with when Churchill the dog appeared in the communication, confirming that the campaign was effective.


Additional bits of insight helped refine the campaign. For example, two versions of the ending were researched, one with Churchill shaking his head, and one nodding. The nodding dog created a much more positive response, explained by the effect of “mirror neurons”, where the brain mimics what it is seeing. The feeling of nodding your head affirmatively is more positive than shaking your head to say “no”.

In conclusion, this a great example of a company recognising the true value of a distinctive brand property, and using innovative research to help refresh it.