When in January 2009 the VCCP Agency first designed a marketing strategy based on a small desert mammal for BGL Group’s UK price comparison website Comparethemarket.com, more than one company executive must have raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Nine TV commercials, nearly 800,000 Facebook fans and over 40,000 Twitter followers later, Aleksandr Orlov’s (fictional) autobiography is set to become a Christmas best-seller.
Whatever the reasons behind people’s fondness for meerkats, the furry creature’s autobiography already occupies second place in Amazon’s bestseller list. In less than two years, the VCCP campaign has created an icon whose life and times are outselling those of Keith Richards.
But what does it mean for the campaign’s original goals? It seems that the meerkat might have developed a bit of an ego problem and forgotten all about the company he was meant to be promoting.
While the campaign no doubt deserves its landmark status in the field of integrated traditional/social marketing, it is also emblematic of the “microsite mistake“. As SEO expert Robert Faulkner at Datadial describes, using an independent, and ephemeral, website (comparethemeerkat.com) to promote a separate domain (comparethemarket.com) deprives the main site of long-term link equity.
It isn’t hurting too much at the moment. A quick look at ComScore shows that comparethemarket.com averages over a million unique visitors a month, with comparethemeerkat.com’s 120,000, a pretty good return for a UK-based insurer. But once the meerkats are gone, the main site is not as well optimised for search as it might have been had all those meerkat links pointed at the main domain.
Perhaps it is just a case of accepting that Aleksandr Orlov has achieved celebrity status and therefore fully deserves a website for himself. He was recently invited to the ITV show, Daybreak, to promote his autobiography, whose £9.99 cover price is surely generating substantial revenue for the BGL Group.
The exact moment when the marketing strategy became a business in its own right is hard to pinpoint – maybe with the launch of an iPhone app? Most likely BGL Group’s top execs are not too concerned.
After all, they are now the undisputed market leaders of the multi-million-pound fictional meerkats industry.