What have the penguins done to deserve this?

Insurance companies are getting desperate when they resort to picking on harmless endangered sea creatures, writes Rob Tipa.

The shifty yellow-eyed penguin
Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust

The shifty yellow-eyed penguin

OPINION: What on earth has possessed the insurance industry? 

It was hard to understand the reasoning behind Tower Insurance's brainless television campaign asking kids in obviously affluent suburbs: 'What would you do if a penguin stole your bike?'.

Even allowing for a television agency's creative licence to use a non-threatening endangered animal to appeal to its target market, the concept is a nonsense. When was the last time anyone had a bike stolen by a penguin?

Fiordland crested penguins, punk rockers of the maritime world.

Fiordland crested penguins, punk rockers of the maritime world.

The story line reads like it was designed by an advertising agency to restore people's confidence in insurance by encouraging them to look back on the carefree days of their youth when they were indestructible, bomb-proof and trusted adults (and by inference insurers) to look after them when things went horribly wrong.


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The furtive little blue penguin.

The furtive little blue penguin.

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The timing of this cynical campaign was unbelievable so soon after the Canterbury earthquakes, when the public's confidence in the insurance industry was at an all-time low.

It must have been galling for people who lost their homes in Canterbury to watch this drivel when they were still waiting for their insurers to pay out for damages they were contractually obliged to settle years ago. Some are still waiting for their companies to do the right thing six years after the event.

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You would have thought Tower's idea of using penguins to sell insurance would have died in the water. But no, the light-flippered penguin is back. Obviously this graduate of the school of petty crime has progressed from stealing bikes to car conversion, in broad daylight and in full view of the dim-witted driver.

Fittingly this television ad was a finalist for the worst ad of the year in Fair Go's advertising awards for 2016.

To add insult to injury, the same company is running ads for nervous Nellies who lose sleep at night worrying their children's presents could be stolen from under their Christmas trees.

Now I don't doubt that the insurance industry knows of some pretty desperate people out there who wouldn't blink at stealing sweets from children, but apparently it's not petty thieves who fit the criminal profile for this unspeakable act.

Yep. You guessed it. It's those free-diving, herring-chasing, low lifes of the southern ocean that are likely to waddle in to honest folks' homes after dark to steal the dreams of their kids while they sleep.

If you have ever seen little blue penguins landing on coastal beaches after dusk, you will know their behaviour is naturally furtive, perhaps even a little sneaky. And if they nest under your house, you'll never get a wink of sleep because they'll bray like wounded donkeys all night long.

Yes, it's true yellow-eyed penguins look shifty with their trendy yellow Beagle Boy masks. And Fiordland crested penguins are definitely the punk rockers of the maritime world that certainly look capable of stealing sweets from babes.

But surely these critically endangered animals have enough to worry about simply surviving climate change, toxic algal blooms, avian malaria or hungry sharks (ocean-going rather than land-based) without spoiling some poor kid's Christmas.

We all know that if any victims of these bogus ads ever lodged a claim that their children's bikes, cars or Christmas presents were actually stolen by a penguin, their insurers would laugh all the way to the High Court. 

Unbelievably, a South African-based insurance company with the unlikely name of Youi jumped on the brainless advertising bandwagon with a television advertisement claiming that their clients could save big bucks on their premiums by leaving their car at home in the garage.

Does this advertisement mean if you occasionally take your car out of the garage and drive to work, you are not insured if you have an accident?

Why on earth would anyone insure a vehicle and then walk to work or catch a bus to save on their insurance premium? That would be as silly as owning a Lear jet and leaving it in the hangar because you are afraid of flying.

As anyone who has had a motor vehicle accident knows, insurers love loopholes and the more loopholes in your policy the easier it is for them to wriggle and squirm their way out of paying out on a fair and legitimate insurance claim.

Coincidentally, the Commerce Commission filed 15 misconduct charges against Youi for allegedly making misleading statements to prospective clients and debiting their bank accounts for policies they never signed up for when they were only seeking a quote.

The company was also fined the maximum of $100,000 by the Insurance Council of New Zealand and probably only retained its membership of that organisation because Youi's chief executive gave a full apology to clients and a promise to change its sales practices.

Maybe they will also look at changing their company motto of "We get you," which on past performance could easily have been interpreted as "We'll get you."

 Obviously these downright dodgy advertising campaigns are working for insurers, because they are spending your hard-earned premiums with television networks to run them.

The reason this misleading style of advertising gets up my nose is because the insurance industry did not come through the Canterbury earthquakes smelling of roses.

Some people may think the 'Let's blame the penguins' campaign is just a bit of light-hearted fun. But a cynic may see it for what it is, a smoke screen for bad performance by insurers during a real crisis.

For most of us insurance is a necessary evil based on our fears of the financial impact of losing our biggest assets, usually our homes, possessions or vehicles. All we want is a simple, plain-speaking agreement with our insurers that they will deliver what they are contractually obliged to do.

Often it is only when we have the misfortune to have an accident, fire, flood or other natural disaster that we read the fine print of our insurance policies and realise what we are actually covered for and what is specifically excluded.

Such misleading advertising does nothing for an insurers' credibility with clients who have lost something precious to them and have the indignity of having to contest their claims through the courts.

So in the unlikely event that this rant is ever read by an insurance company or advertising agency executive with a conscience, for God's sake give the penguins a break. Pick on someone your own size.

Rob Tipa is a reporter for NZ Farmer


 - Stuff

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