Telling the truth about SME life today

The genius of meerkats

Brand building is out of fashion these days. With the advent of the web and search-engine marketing, marketers have switched their attention to click-through rates and cost-per-acquisition. The reasons are clear: brand strength is notoriously difficult to measure. While even the most pernickety finance director or CEO can usually be persuaded by a chart that shows a direct correlation between clicks and sales, few are prepared to sit through a three-hour session on the vagaries of brand tracking or econometric modelling.

However, particularly in competitive markets, people make choices with their hearts as well as their heads. So unless you are L’Oreal and can afford to invest millions in research and development to keep your product one step ahead of competitors, you ignore the softer, emotional values of your brand at your peril.

Take meerkats. Since the BBC first aired its documentary The Meerkats in 2008, meerkats have been hot property. You can buy meerkat toys, meerkat t-shirts, even meerkat rucksacks. In suburban gardens, a stealth invasion of meerkats has been nudging out our native gnomes. Britain has gone meerkat mad.

Most famous of all is the character dreamed up by advertising agency VCCP, Aleksander Orlov – the aristocratic meerkat of Russian descent who fronts a series of advertisements for (not, under any circumstances, be confused with the price comparison website

There is a common perception that building a brand is expensive, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Brands like Innocent and Ben & Jerry’s were built on a shoestring and, if anything, lack of money forced them to be smarter and more creative. The genius of’s meerkats lies less in the expensive TV ads (if anything, the quality of these seems to be slipping as production budgets increase) than in the innovative way they have capitalised on the idea across different media and channels. The website is a delight (and yes, you really can compare meerkats) and Aleksander has a following of more than half a million on Facebook and nearly 40,000 on Twitter.

The product has to deliver of course, but traffic to shot up in the wake of the campaign and the reasons for this had nothing to do with the fact that people thought the service was better than other price comparison websites. They came because the name was top of mind, thanks to the clever play on words and because they liked what the brand stood for. It was engaging, irreverent and it made them laugh, the complete opposite in fact, of the values you’d normally associate with buying car insurance.

Fashionable or not, a strong brand is still the best guarantor of longevity. Simples

Frances Brindle is the British Library’s director of strategic marketing and communications. The British Library Business & IP Centre (BIPC) hosts events and workshops to help SMEs and growth businesses, focusing on e-marketing and growing your business on a shoe-string. The BIPC advises thousands of budding entrepreneurs on how to protect their ideas and nurture their brands. For more information, visit

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