Once, we were simply asked to believe that a nodding dog was answering mundane questions about the benefits of Churchill's car insurance. It wasn't complicated, demanding or great advertising, but it did allow Churchill to list its product features in a mildly engaging fashion.
What's more, it fixed in our minds an image and a trustworthy voice. Not a particularly intelligent voice, but what do you expect from a toy dog?
Those innocent days are long behind us. Who would have guessed that we would long for their return? But Churchill (the company) could not leave Churchill (the dog) alone. He was a success, so he needed the trappings of success - in the shape of celebrity friends.
Nobody too glamorous, mind. Martin Clunes never ran the risk of being more attractive than the dog. His acting talent wasn't exactly stretched, either, and he was able to do most of the ads lying down.
The nature of the dog's relationship with Clunes was never exactly clear. One hesitates to speak of the brand mascot as a pet. More a companion, of some kind, perhaps. The dog spoke a bit more than before, though he was still far from verbose. He drove a sit-on lawnmower on one memorable occasion. I might be overstating things a little there.
Clunes, however, has gone. What went wrong? Churchill told us he was banned from driving, and that lost him the gig. More likely, I think, he snapped and, acting on the silent urging of the great British TV audience, punched Churchill the dog in the face. Watching the ads, you could sense that he was tempted at times to do this.
In Clunes' place we have Dawn French. The dog seems satisfied with the change. He now gets to sit in the front seat of the car. His head, already large in previous incarnations, seems to have grown to titanic proportions. Perhaps French insisted on a clause in her contract specifying something about relative size?
So how do they fare? The relationship seems warm. French certainly knows how to set Churchill up for his killer line. I sense a growing affection, perhaps forged rapidly under the duress of having an especially idiotic back-seat passenger.
This passenger is the point of the ad, if there is one. She has had a 'little prang in the car', as she tells us, but doesn't want to be a burden - which, of course, she then goes on to be, in various comical scenes that include a cat farting.
What you, the viewer, are being asked to do is look past the pair in the front of the car, if you can, and see how obnoxious their passenger is - and realise it could be you, unless you purchase a Churchill car-insurance policy and thus get a hire car in the event of an accident.
The problem is, nobody is going to identify with this repellent person. You won't sit there and think, goodness, I mustn't be like that. All you think is, I never thought they would find somebody more annoying than the dog to put in their ads, but look - they've done it. Full marks.
Brand strategy verdict
The farting cat makes the most eloquent comment on this whole sorry episode.
3 out of 10
|Which of the following TV commercials do you remember seeing recently?|
|Latest rank||Mar-7||Brand||Agency/TV buyer||Recall|
|2||(5=)||Aldi||McCann Manchester/UM Manchester||47|
|5=||(-)||EE||Saatchi & Saatchi/MEC||42|
|7=||(-)||Carte D'Or||Adam & Eve DDB/Mindshare||42|
|7=||(-)||Asda||Saatchi & Saatchi/Carat||40|
|9||(-)||Lynx||Bartle Bogle Hegarty/Mindshare||36|
|10||(-)||Birds Eye Rice Fusions||The Assembly/Carat||35|
|12=||(-)||Kronenbourg 1664||Ogilvy & Mather/Mediavest||34|
|12=||(-)||Pedigree Dentastix||AMV BBDO/ZenithOptimedia||34|
|14||(2)||McDonald's||Leo Burnett/OMD UK||33|
|16||(-)||Unilever - compressed deodorants||Lola Lowe Madrid/Mindshare||30|
|17=||(-)||Cillit Bang||Havas Worldwide London/Zenith Optimedia||27|
|17=||(-)||Truvia||Creature of London/ZenithOptimedia||27|
|20||(-)||Vanish||Havas Worldwide London/Zenith Optimedia||26|
Adwatch research was conducted from 28 February-4 March 2013 by TNS as part of its twice-weekly OnLineBus omnibus among 1000 adults aged 16-64. For details of the survey, contact Bob.Salmons@tnsglobal.com (020 7160 5550). Ads were compiled by Ebiquity (020 7650 9700) and Mediaedge:cia UK (020 7803 2000).
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk