The 2017 version of Mr Benn in a scene from an insurance advert to be seen next year
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

As if by magic . . . the insurer appeared!

Mr Benn, the bowler-hatted fancy dress enthusiast made famous by a 1970s children’s cartoon series, is to reappear in a new series of ads for an insurance company. He will be joined by the ever-present shopkeeper — dressed as always in a fez, round glasses and a bow tie — and a new character, a dog called Eddie.

The company behind his return is Equine & Livestock, a 70-year-old insurer that specialises in pet cover. E&L will use Mr Benn to promote a new brand, called The Insurance Emporium, which will offer 20 insurance products from pets and horses to motor, life, fishing, golf and home cover.

“We felt that the Insurance Emporium chimed with what we do as a company,” said Francis Martin, E&L chief executive. “We’re a bit eclectic, a bit different to the norm.

“Then we asked how we can relate that to consumers. We thought Mr Benn was a great idea. It fits with the idea of insuring your passions in life,” he added.

In the original cartoon series Mr Benn found himself in a variety of scrapes after trying on costumes in a fancy dress shop and — after walking through a door at the back of the changing room — magically entering a world befitting his clothes. At the critical moment, the shopkeeper re-appeared to take back the costume. There were 13 episodes in the original series, and there is still a thriving market in Mr Benn-related T-shirts, mugs and other paraphernalia.

E&L is not the only company to spot an opportunity in the nostalgia for old cartoon characters. Halifax, part of Lloyds Bank, has been using Top Cat to advertise mortgages for the past year or so — though it initially prompted a bemused reaction on social media, with Twitter users asking whether the lender realised the subprime connotations of giving a mortgage to a con artist who lived in a bin.

Price comparison sites have taken character-based advertising to a whole new level. Compare the Market’s meerkats have been joined by GoCompare’s opera singer, Moneysupermarket’s troupe of disco-dancing builders and’s robot as the sites battle to capture new customers and keep hold of the old ones. Marketing spending is one of their biggest costs.

Mr Martin says that privately owned E&L, which generates turnover of about £36m per year, has spent up to £2m on creating and developing its new brand. That includes fees to license Mr Benn from its creator, David McKee.

“We have worked very closely with David McKee to make sure that we stay true to Mr Benn and his adventures,” Mr Martin adds. “It’s just that in this modern world, there’s a lot more risk.”

The new Mr Benn television ads will appear in the new year. It remains to be seen what the “insurtech” community, which is bent on modernising the centuries-old industry, will make of the fact that its latest figurehead is a man who dresses in a black jacket, pinstripe trousers and a bowler hat.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.