RoboCop, a Ninja Turtle and a Transformer Are All Back in Action to… Sell Insurance?

Hollywood heroes take over Direct Line's ad duties from 'The Wolf'

RoboCop is ready to bust some lowlifes, but Direct Line might have beat him to the punch. Direct Line
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Winston Wolf, the deadpan crime-cleanup expert from Pulp Fiction played by Harvey Keitel, has been shilling for Direct Line insurance in the U.K. for the past six years. But the famous fixer has been retired. And no, that’s not a euphemism for something sinister. (He’s not wearing cement shoes or sleeping with the fishes). He’s just stepped out of the commercial spotlight.

Direct Line’s new campaign, via Saatchi & Saatchi London, looks again to Hollywood for inspiration, but this time chooses spokescharacters on the right side of the law.

RoboCop, Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bumblebee of Transformers fame are central to the brand’s message, “We’re On It,” which beats the well known crime fighters at their own game.

Direct Line joins a number of brands, like Sonic in the U.S., in moving away from ad stars that have built up equity over time with audiences. It was a carefully considered decision, according to Saatchi execs.

“It’s always brave to walk away from something that’s working really hard,” said creative director Franki Goodwin. “Winston Wolfe was disproportionately associated with Direct Line, and he was also still relevant.”

And he’s left big shoes to fill, said Goodwin, with “a benchmark to not just meet but smash.” Here’s a look back at how The Wolf made his debut:

Now enters the trio of TV and movie superheroes, who spring into action to solve consumers’ problems. They were chosen, Goodwin said, to “hit every demographic” and for their particular skill sets. 

RoboCop, for instance, responds to a theft of computers from a business, while Donatello tries to fix a home plumbing disaster and Bumblebee shows up at a car crash. In each case, Direct Line has already handled the situation and saved the day, effectively getting #outheroed.

The campaign, intended to be a new chapter for the brand that brings all its services under one marketing banner, is “scaleable and flexible,” Goodwin said. It may include other recognizable faces going forward, though the agency is “not addicted to putting characters” in the spots.

The 60-second cinematic ads, from decorated director Bryan Buckley, lean into their special effects and hew closely to the characters’ well-known DNA. That happened through an ongoing collaboration between the agency, the intellectual property owners and production house The Mill, Goodwin said.

The commercial launch, coinciding with a brand refresh of the company’s “red telephone on wheels” logo, hit upward of 7.5 million people on TV and VOD recently, via an ad break takeover on ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. As part of the extensive media plan, Direct Line plans out of home, social, in theater and radio for what’s expected to be a long-running campaign.

The new work differs significantly in tone from the past because The Wolf quietly crept in, dispassionately offered solutions and then disappeared, “like it had never happened,” Goodwin said. The superheroes, on the other hand, make a lot of noise and draw quite a bit of attention to themselves. 

Wendy Moores, Direct Line’s head of marketing, likes the evolution.

“The power and flexibility of the idea that Saatchi & Saatchi has created gives us greater freedom than we’ve ever had,” said Moores, allowing the brand “to deliver a more cohesive and consistent campaign across the breadth of our product portfolio and through all media channels.”


Client: Direct Line

Kerry Chilvers

Wendy Moores

Claire Sadler

Kirsty Hoad

Allie Lawson

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi London

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@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.