When you’re in a hole stop digging

You know what the ridiculous thing is? Advertising doesn’t seem to have much impact on price comparison websites anyway.

This is unpleasantly ironic, as they’re routinely the most awful ads on the telly – burrowing into your psyche like the grub of a parasitic wasp sitting in the belly of a paralysed caterpillar, being slowly consumed from the inside out. At least if there was a point to it, it wouldn’t seem so utterly ghastly. Well, perhaps.

The thing is though, Gio and Cara and Aleksandr aren’t about making you rush over to the PC to rush through some car insurance quotes, they’re about embedding that brand, that name, that URL with the promise of cheaper car insurance, which is why there’s always a ‘dot com’ added to the end of every mention of them.

Think of a Russian meerkat – think of car insurance. Think of an annoying fat tenor – think of cheap car insurance. Think of (recently-replaced) Omid Djalili insulting unlikely celebs – think of cheap car insurance. Think of Cara Confused – think of a dating site run by a slack-jawed tramp with an extra-dimensional clunge. Well, three out of four ain’t bad eh?

Someone came on the site the other day to tell me how great the ad was and how it was working cos it’s so shit, or something. I saw some figures on Brand Republic (AdTurds is still hanging onto its Brand Republic Top 200 blogs position by the skin of its teeth) that suggested the opposite a few weeks ago so I thought I’d have a look at how Confused.com’s £25m ad spend has benefited it.

The unfortunate truth is: not. Confused.com remains last or dead last in a PR Week poll of the four main price comparison sites to determine which were the most memorable, easy to use and cheapest in terms of quotes provided – though it’s important to determine which is reality and which perception; in the case of the ad it’s the latter that counts (for the record MoneySupermarket came on top in each with CompareTheMarket second).

This poses interesting questions for all the featured sites, but it should focus the mind of Confused.com and GoCompare.com most. For my money the latter at least has the advantage of a clear, unified campaign and regularly features in ‘most remembered’ lists along with the meerkat.

Confused.com doesn’t – people think it’s a dating site and are distracted by bizarre gynaecological swerves – and it recently got told off for it’s misleading and nonsensical ’20-million strong’ claim. What’s more it recently introduced a advert that’s just based around reiterating its name – pretty much an admission that your previous wares weren’t really doing their job.

What’s more a recent interim report from owner Admiral says that turnover is ‘flat’ and ‘margins remain under pressure’ – suggesting no upwards movement since they spunked £20m on multimedia campaigns featuring Cara. Operating profit is down following Cara’s debut – from £8.8m in H1 of 2010 to 8.2m in H1 of 2011.

It’s hard to see how the ad campaign can be judged to have been a success in light of these metrics, though the obvious response from advertisers is that profits and brand penetration would have suffered even more without the exposure. My rejoinder to that would be that, with a better campaign, Confused.com would be doing better than it is at the moment.

Figuring out what makes a better campaign than your existing one is easier said than done, of course, and who’s going to critique your latest campaign when your own management and marketing teams came up with it? Short of sacking themselves there’s nowhere to go with Confused.com’s current advertising strategy – which means they stick with Cara or perform an embarrassing ‘mea culpa’ and get some people who know what they’re doing to do it. Hell, I’ll do it for a flat fee of £10,000.

Confused.com had mixed fortunes with previous agencies, and the existence of this blog shows that getting in the so-called experts can have mixed results – but a lot of the evidence suggests that Confused.com may have made a mistake as big as its mascot’s vajayjay.