Vhi’s Adam Bacon voted top marketer


Faced with the challenge of getting price conscious families to pay a premium for a perceived commodity during the worst recession in Ireland for years and for justifying a market leader position, changing value perceptions and improving sales has won Vhi head of marketing Adam Bacon, left, the Marketer of the Year award for 2016.

By 2014, almost 272,000, or 13 per cent of the total private medical insurance market, had cancelled their policies. With health insurance in Ireland community rated, everyone pays the same premium, regardless of age. Vhi is Ireland’s top health insurer, investing a billion in customer treatment and care yearly annually – but also has the oldest customers.

Vhi faced costs of €110 million, compared to competitors with much younger books and costs of around €8m. It means Vhi had far less room to manoeuvre at a time when consumers were highly price conscious. Vhi’s competitors were aggressively targeting switchers and families with offers like ‘kids under three go free’ and ‘switch from Vhi and save €150’.

To avoid a race to the bottom and brand damage, Vhi adopted a different tack. The company had lost six per cent share in the three years to 2013 and needed to reverse fortunes. Bacon’s aim was to increase the under-60s cohort by five per cent to 62 per cent overall. By doing so, it would ensure claims for older customers could be paid without major price hikes.


Stories well told: Vhi’s direction under Adam Bacon saw the company refine its animated TV ads created by Publicis. The testimonials developed with a distinct palette of colours and faces is intended to create ‘a Vhi world’ where people get better and stay well. Bacon says sometimes strong insights are so glaringly obvious, they are not insights at all.

Previous campaigns were built on the idea that if things went wrong, Vhi could provide the peace of mind healthcare consumers needed. The new proposition was based on the message that when it comes to healthcare, people should not settle for less. Vhi’s agency Publicis created a set of testimonial ads based on claimants’ real life stories, using animation.

Carmel told her story of being diagnosed with breast cancer and the care she received from Vhi. Trevor’s story portrayed the life threatening cardiac problems he faced and his insurer’s quick intervention. Vhi had expanded its consumer product range from five to 75 and other commercials focused on Swiftcare clinics, HomeCare and overseas offers to expats.

The media strategy moved from bursts to ‘always on’. Vhi rolled out a website to improve sales and customer service tools and social media messaging built on the customer stories and new product offers. The two-year campaign saw image scores ahead of the targeted five points with healthcare experts up seven and ‘most trusted’ provider up 11 points.

The campaign saw value for money earn a nine per cent plus rate and pricing on products jump by ten per cent. Cancellations reduced and sales moved from 57 per cent to 69 per cent, seven points ahead of target. The campaign drove a spike in young singles from 21 per cent to 28 per cent. Online sales increased “sizeably” in the first year of the new website.

Bacon reported post-campaign revenue per customer was up by 15 per cent as was market share – and for the right reasons, no need to join a race to the bottom. Vhi got five and a half times more engagement on social media than the nearest competitor. For a company that a few years ago was on the verge of a bailout, Vhi dramatically turned fortunes around.


This year’s other Marketer of the Year finalists were Alina Ui Chaollai, marketing director, Largo Foods and Dervila McGarry (left), head of marketing, Aer Lingus. McGarry’s task was to take the Aer Lingus brand beyond Ireland and give it a new international status in the middle airline market alongside International Airline Group’s British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa.

“We had to think beyond the Ireland context,” McGarry says. “The new strategy required some persuasion getting buy-in. We had a team of 16 people in all and brought in insights and analytics experts.” McGarry moved to sponsorship and the airline signed a deal with the IRFU to become the Ireland rugby team’s official carrier.

Kay McCarthy’s planning agency MCCP helped develop the new masterbrand. Flying for some people can be stressful, they just want to get to their destination, as quickly and safely as possible. Workshops led to a new brand positioning along the lines of ‘the smarter travel experience’ and why consumers make the wide choice by flying Aer Lingus.

To differentiate from the airline’s mid-market positioning, new frontline staff service standards were required. Passengers were renamed ‘guests’ to emphasise service as a value airline and a ‘good to great programme’ was launched. Improvements in operations, IT and in-flight services were made and a 25 per cent increase in ad spend was approved.


The Aer Lingus ‘Smart flies…’ was rolled out by London agency KesselsKramer, the airline’s first brand campaign in over ten years. Results for 2015 showed a 12 per cent increase in revenue and a four per cent rise in ‘guest’ numbers. The Skytrax world airline awards rated Aer Lingus four star, the first and only Irish airline to earn such a prestigious accolade.


At the end of 2014, Alina Ui Chaollai, right, set about giving Largo’s flagship brand Tayto a new impetus and halt market decline by returning the brand to media advertising after a three-year break. The focus had been on promoting Mr Tayto through below the line activity. There was a six point drop on volume share lost to the likes of PepsiCo’s Walkers crisps and Pringles.

While Tayto Park was doing a good job in recruiting ‘tweenies’, Ui Chaollai’s task was to influence under 35s. Fun-loving Mr Tayto ads were created by Publicis in a bid to reverse the decline and increase demand from under 35s by 20 per cent within a year. Advertising response scores needed to be brought in line with rival brands.

Research by Boston Consulting Group showed Tayto was emotionally more relevant for over 35s. But Walkers with Gary Lineker fronting ads and Pringles, owned by Kellogg’s, were continually launching new flavours targeted at youngsters. Sister brand Doritos rolled out Doritos Roulette last year. Tayto was a 60-year-old Irish snack with no ‘new news’.

No Repro Free: Friday 4th November 2016. The Tayto Pop Up Shop is on the move once more and this time it's going festive! This Christmas Mr. Tayto is delighted to announce that he is opening the doors to his very own Tayto Crispmas Workshop in the iconic Arnotts Christmas Windows. The Pop Up Crispmas Workshop will be located in the Arnotts Christmas windows on Henry Street and Arnotts Festive Flavours Market in the Lower Basement. The window design has been inspired by Santa’s workshop in the North Pole and has been custom furnished and decorated to Mr. Tayto’s high standard. The window will have the much loved and original, Tayto Crispmas Sandwich, in 4 different Tayto-tastic flavours; The Cheese and Onion Crispmas Classic, The Salt and Vinegar Santa Sambo, The Smokey Bacon Bells Buttie and the Prawn Cocktail Tinsel Treat! Not only that but, exclusive Tayto Gift Boxes, bags and advent calendars are also available. Stuck for some great Crispmas present or Krisp Kindle ideas? Tayto’s Christmas Shop located downstairs in Arnotts, is a one-stop-shop for everything Tayto-related, including Crispmas Tayto merchandise, a personalised gift service to make that present extra special as well as gift vouchers and family passes to Ireland’s most- loved theme park and zoo – Tayto Park. The dapper man in the hat and the originator of the crisp sandwich will also be on hand to soak up some festive fun and will be making appearances every weekend on the run up to Christmas. All things #ArnottsTaytoCrispmas will be in Arnotts from the 5th of November until first week in January Photo shows : Orlaith Deegan from Meath, at Arnotts today. Jason Clarke Photography.

Tayto’s ‘More than just a crisp’ played on brand nostalgia. The ads scored 64 across all audiences on Red C’s Red Star index, where the norm is 57. Kantar figures showed a 5.8 per cent increase in purchase frequency and a three point sales increase. Tayto pop-up shops, above, with crisp sandwiches proved popular and the brand was listed on Aer Lingus flights.

First launched by Marketing.ie in 1993, Marketer of the Year is about recognising and honouring an individual’s excellence in marketing, specifically for work done in the past two years. The person is someone through strategy, innovation, communications and impact on the marketplace has made their brand, product or service an outstanding success.

Last year’s winner was Tom Keogh’s of Keogh’s Crisps. The year before, SuperValu’s Ray Kelly won the award and in 2013 it was Peter McKenna of the GAA/Croke Park. The winner is selected by a panel of judges chaired by Damien McLoughlin, professor of marketing at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, working to strict criteria.

Marketer of the Year™ is organised by Marketing.ie magazine in association with Alternatives, the marketing talent house. Marketer of the Year™ is registered in the Register of Trade Marks in the name of Marketing.ie under the Trade Marks Act 1996. Any use of Marketer of the Year™ in the Republic of Ireland is strictly the preserve of Marketing.ie.



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