Topcat, the Flintstones, Shaggy & Scooby, the Thunderbirds and now The Wizard of Oz. Halifax has licensed an impressive run of classic characters to front their various brand campaigns. BrandIndex figures, which track the effectiveness of the campaigns also showed the character licenses are effective. The use of Topcat in their ad showed a significant increase in Halifax’s Ad Awareness rating. But success in character driven advertising is not limited to banking and finance with Halifax.

Previously known for its trusty red telephone on wheels in its advertising, Direct Line had been struggling to compete with rival insurance companies and the rise of online price comparison sites. In response, the group licensed the charismatic Winston Wolf character, a “fixer” from the iconic film Pulp Fiction, to communicate its new position as the hassle-free insurance provider.

The campaign launched in August 2014 and, despite a significant cut in overall marketing spend, the brand saw unprecedented growth. Hall & Partners measured an increase of 22% for those agreeing with the key brand reboot statement “they take care of your insurance, so you can go on with your life” in Sep 2015 vs the period before the reboot. After one-year, Direct Line became the most preferred insurance brand and by Feb 2016 had sustained positive YOY growth in car insurance quotes for 12 consecutive months.

Mark Evans, managing director of Direct Line, said at the Media360 conference in 2016: “The communication is very strong. It’s not like advertising, it’s a bit like drama, it doesn’t tire and is enjoyable to watch. If I take the effectiveness of our TV advertising from before our relaunch to now, it’s improved by 53%. I’ve never been involved in anything like that from an advertising story.” The ads clearly had character.

Holiday season is the most important time of the year for retailers, with the big players fighting to be the present below the tree on Christmas Day. 2017 was no stranger to a host of character driven Christmas campaigns in order to drive emotional relevancy for present purchasers. While John Lewis’ “Moz the Monster” faced off against Aldi’s “Kevin the Carrot”, it was a friendly bear from Peru – with his old hat, duffle coat and love of marmalade that won the hearts of the British public.

Marks & Spencer’s Christmas campaign starring Paddington Bear was the most effective Christmas ad campaign of 2017 according to adtech pioneer, Unruly. The retail store’s “Paddington and The Christmas Visitor” topped the chart with an EQ score (Unruly’s combined metric) of 6.4 out of 10 after 35% of viewers came away with a more favourable view of the brand. Importantly the ad also packed an emotional punch, with 25% of viewers admitting they felt intensely happy watching the ad, 22% saying the content made them feel incredible warmth, and 9% admitting to feeling incredibly nostalgic while viewing.

Licensing of an iconic character effectively drives emotional engagement with the brand, connecting a characters’ attributes and story directly with a brand’s product or service. And what’s the result of the emotional relevance? Driving key business metrics and sales when brands need it most.