Darren Bailes on Channel 5


Agency News



How did the idea of the Compare the Market meerkats come to life and how have they captured the nation’s hearts for years?

VCCP’s Global Chief Creative Officer, Darren Bailes was on Channel 5's 'Britain's Favourite Ads of the 70s & 80s'. The show celebrates some of the most memorable, funny and sometimes shocking British TV adverts. Darren talked through the history of our Compare The Market Meerkat campaign, the impact it has on the British nation for over 14 years, and the story of how the creative idea of using an aristocratic meerkat developed into a longstanding strategy. 

Speaking about how the original campaign idea came to life, Darren addressed the question that was asked by several of the show’s participants: “How do you go about coming up with the idea of a meerkat telling you how to find cheaper car insurance?”

Explaining the initial idea that sparked the creative process, Darren unveiled how an unusual and bizarre idea someone on his creative team came up with while riding his bike became one of the most famous and most loved campaigns in British history. 

The creative spark? Compare the Market sounded a bit like Compare the Meerkat.

Darren then elaborated how this evolved; a young creative team developed an idea “What if Compare the Market was kind of a parallel business?” Darren then explained "And we had this meerkat and he’s aristocratic, wears a smoking jacket and lives in an oak panelled house. And the issue is that people keep going to his website when he wants them to go to Compare The Market."

Darren admitted it was random, but explained that this is part of the allure of the campaign, and having a solid backstory to the creative idea meant that the meerkats have continued to engage viewers for over 14 years. “It’s story, it’s character, it’s depth, and it makes people want to know why. And slowly but surely we explain this.”

A large part of the idea played on the affection of the British public for meerkats, creating a mascot that would capture viewers' attention but also build a lasting impact. A significant part of the process was about taking creative risks, as was creating a dichotomy - namely by creating accents for the characters.

Despite the unconventional idea, the idea was so effective, it even impacted the creative idea behind rival insurance brand Go Compare’s own strategy.

Darren’s story highlights that creativity has no bounds. From a quirky linguistic connection to the emergence of an aristocratic meerkat as a brand icon, it’s a testament to the power of storytelling and creating daring. The meerkats’ enduring charm and influence extend far beyond the brand, reshaping the advertising landscape itself and leaving a lasting imprint on the industry. 

Watch the full episode of 'Britain's Favourite Ads of the 70s & 80s' on Channel 5 here