God save the brand? Punk musicians power U.K. ads

Fri May 29, 2009 9:12pm EDT
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By Mark Sutherland

LONDON (Billboard) - Never mind the bullocks, indeed -- Johnny Rotten and some stampeding cows have started a rush toward punk advertising in the United Kingdom.

The Sex Pistols frontman, now known as John Lydon, stars in popular U.K. TV commercials for the butter brand Country Life. Dressed in country-gent tweeds, the one-time scourge of polite society is seen watching traditional English folk dancers, running from cows and declaring, "It's not about Great Britain -- it's about great butter!" with the gusto he once reserved for sneering "I am an anti-Christ/I am an anarchist."

On other British channels, punk forefather Iggy Pop stars in ads for the online car insurance brand Swiftcover in which the shirtless Stooges frontman declares: "You think I'm selling car insurance? I'm not -- I'm selling time!"

But he is selling car insurance -- and lots of it. Swiftcover says its first-quarter sales soared 31 percent over the same period last year, thanks to the ad. And Lydon has heated up butter sales -- Country Life parent company Dairy Crest credited that ad, which debuted on U.K. television October 1, 2008, with driving an 85 percent increase in sales by volume of its "spreadable" brands in fourth-quarter 2008.

"Punk doesn't mean what it meant 30 years ago," says Snowy Everitt, director of the London-based marketing agency Espionage, which specializes in putting brands and music together. "For most people in 2009, punk isn't about music, it's about attitude. Butter isn't fun, edgy, sexy or cool -- but, in times of economic crisis, advertisers need cut-through, and anything that gets you talked about is worth a punt."

Swiftcover marketing director Tina Shortle agrees, crediting Pop with helping the campaign -- which has a rate-card value of 25 million pounds ($38 million) -- "stand out in a cluttered market."

"We weren't too worried if the target audience didn't recognize Iggy as a celebrity," she says. "We just wanted someone renowned for having fun and enjoying life." Both campaigns also have attracted considerable media attention: Shortle says online searches for Swiftcover and Pop have increased 30 percent since the campaign started January 4, and Dairy Crest marketing director Paul Fraser says Country Life's "spontaneous awareness" rating more than doubled.

ROGUE FACTOR   Continued...

<p>The Sex Pistols lead singer John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, performs at the Azkena Rock Festival in Vitoria September 5, 2008. REUTERS/Vincent West</p>