Monday, 21 January 2013

Calm Down Dear! Michael Winner, E-Sure and viral culture

The sad news of Michael Winner's passing today reminded me of some text that I wrote about the (now legendary) 'Calm Down Dear!' E-sure insurance campaign of 2003.  The campaign ran in the UK, starred film director / food critic Michael Winner and mutated from being a standard paid TV spot into something that penetrated viral culture and mainstream press discussion.  I originally researched this activity as I planned to include it in my book 'Paid Owned Earned', but it didn't quite make the final cut...

Michael Winner ESure calm down dear
Michael Winner 'Calm Down Dear!'
In 2002 Michael Winner started to appear in TV advertising for E-Sure. Essentially Winner crashes into 'the back of' someone's new car. Terrible dialogue and bad acting lent a kind of charm to the production, but the catchphrase that Winner used throughout the ad, ‘Calm Down Dear’ began to live outside of the 30-second spot as it permeated everyday life.  I remember the phrase being used repeatedly in our part of the office and Google now returns me 129,000 results against an exact match search on the ‘Calm Down Dear’ phrase - indicating just how much discussion the ad prompted!  

This ad also becaming a hit in remix culture circles and became quite prominent.  Indeed whilst it's quite hard to find the original Calm Down Dear ad on YouTube, my favourite piece of related E-Sure / Michael Winner content is more prominent - a YouTube hard dance remix by Jakazid  called ‘Calm Down Dear! REMIX’. This remix was even praised by E-Sure in a national newspaper with a spokesman telling The Sun "We were flattered that someone enjoyed our ad enough to spend the time to do this".  The Jakazid remix then got a second lease of life once YouTube was launched and people started uploading the E-sure Calm Down Dear remix to the fledgling video platform:



The PR coverage continued as E-Sure and the Michael Winner Calm Down Dear slogan turned up in other areas too. Chris Moyles, then host of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, became obsessed with the ad slogan and, across a number of shows, his 7.5 million or so listeners heard him repeatedly reference E-Sure - all on the non-ad carrying BBC:

On Tues 8th April 2003:

"The team had Michael Winner on the phone. The ‘calm down dear’ commercials have apparently sold loads of insurance policies for esure. All the Ads were shot outside Michaels house. He used to be a really bad driver; he once crashed through some railings and into someone’s living room. He has written about Chris in his Times column, full of lots of praise apparently. It’s out Sunday if you’re interested. "

On Weds 9th Apr 2003:

"Chris had gained an exclusive preview of the new Michael Winner advert. The clip featured a carpet spillage and Michael saying 'Calm down dear! We can claim for it on our insurance policy!' The team thought it was very funny. The advert will be shown during tonight's episode of The Bill. Chris had to play an advert for digital TV featuring Dave Pearce and an old woman. When it had finished Chris said 'What the hell was that?' Dave replied in a Michael Winner voice 'It's a commercial!'  The team made personal commercials for the listeners in honour of the genius that is Michael Winner and his two new commercials being aired tonight. The only criteria was that each one had to have the ‘calm down dear’ phrase in it. "

On Thurs 10th Apr 2003:

"The team recieved some presents from esure for plugging them so much. They had a stress ball which when squeezed said 'calm down dear' and a specially made cartoon saying 'calm down dear, it's the Chris Moyles Show' "

An article on the BBC website in 2005 highlights the Calm Down Dear campaign:

"If Winner was made to look a touch silly, he probably wouldn't mind. For nearly three years now, he has been the star - and director - of a series of adverts for insurance company Esure which have been as irritating as they have been effective.  Whether crashing a car, or dressing up in drag and standing on a chair, Winner showed no reluctance to make himself look a bit foolish for the sake of publicity. And the tactic has worked: the company claims it has reached a million policies in less than four years in business."

The BBC article then quotes Francesca Newland from [advertising magazine] Campaign: 

"They [the Michael Winner E-Sure ads] stand out for their awfulness, but that can be a good tool for advertisers, as long as not many other people try it. If everyone tried it, eventually everybody would turn their televisions off.  They are very irritating, that's certain, but in this case Michael Winner managed to pull it off."

The persistence of the 'Calm Down Dear' catchphrase was then once again show in 2012 as it hit the headlines after UK prime minister David Cameron told a female opposition MP to 'Calm Down Dear.'  

Ultimately an ad campaign that felt 'homemade' and irritated a lot of people, managed to become an (ironic?) multi-media property as the catchphrase quickly entered popular culture in the process turning an insurance start up into a household name.


All of this happened in a pre-Facebook / pre-Twitter world, but a number of lessons still apply.  Talent is important, playing out across multiple channels helps and quality and virality are not necessarily synonymous, but at the end of the day....


'Calm Down Dear - it's just a commercial!'


RIP


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