In January 2009 the UK price comparison website launched its first ever comparethemeerkat advert. The adverts, starring Aleksandr Orlov, a Russian meerkat businessman frustrated with people confusing his own site for comparethemarket’s went on to become a marketing phenomenon, winning praise from within the industry and fellow marketers. Since the launch of the campaign has seen over 100% uplift in visits and is now the UK’s most recognised insurance price comparison sites.

In 2010 comparethemarket decided to publish A Simples Life, the autobiography of Aleksandr – a unique and fun way to engage its customers. With his existing popularity it might sound like an easy first project for a newly appointed PR agency to promote. But the task was far from simples for Good Relations, publishers Ebury and the comparethemarket team because the target set was to get the book right to the number one spot in the Sunday Times bestseller chart. To do so we had to take on the big celebrity biogs of the year – Tony Blair, Katie Price, Michael McIntyre, Stephen Fry and Keith Richards – and their publishers’ marketing machines. We also had less time – A Simples Life was the last Christmas book to be released in 2010 – October 28th. A major betting agency in the UK rated our odds at 100/1.

But the campaign delivered (and then some). The book hit the number one spot in the Sunday Times Bestsellers list on the 5th December and stayed there for four weeks. At peak the book was selling 7 copies every minute and to date nearly half a million copies have been sold. comparethemarket described the media coverage and social media engagement that propelled it top spot as “the best we’ve ever had.” This is how it was achieved.

The Challenge
There were a number of challenges for the book. Foremost was that we needed to create a launch campaign that would deliver the awareness and appetite needed to take A Simples Life to No.1. We needed to ensure people started to talk about it, that the public wanted to buy it and read it and that booksellers saw the opportunity and promoted A Simple’s Life themselves.

comparethemarket was also concerned that the vast majority of previous coverage had been in the tabloids. Coverage across all media was required to engage with a wider audience.

And then there was the competition. There were a plethora of celebrity memoirs, with multi-million pound advances, published prior to Christmas. All were vying for the number one spot. With a commercial brand behind the book, the traditional book promotion toolkit did not apply. Interviews on national BBC TV and radio were severely restricted due to rigorous enforcement of the ‘due prominence’ rules (following criticism of coverage of a recent Harry Potter story) and a high profile book signing tour was certainly not an option.

Strategic Approach
We needed to create momentum and get people and the media talking and get behind the book right from the beginning. Our core strategic thought was therefore to focus the campaign not on the book itself but on its potential success. Social media played a key early role, building excitement and engagement amongst Aleksandr fans. And from day one, weeks before the publication date all of the campaign news positioned “A Simples Life” as a Christmas No.1 bestseller, long before it had sold a single copy.

Campaign Execution
Good Relations worked with comparethemarket, the publisher’s Ebury and VCCP, the advertising agency behind the campaign to develop and execute the programme across three distinct phases. Social media and PR were the key disciplines in driving engagement and coverage.

The focus on pre-launch was on telling the early success story. While a social media campaign drove anticipation amongst existing fans, we worked with to push out the story that A Simples Life was leading the way in the pre-sales charts, outselling Tony Blair and Katie Price by over 100%. The story bubbled along eventually catching fire and generating significant national coverage.

Launch Week
The book sold over 20,000 copies in its full week of sales (placing the book in the top ten) driven by a strong media launch campaign including:
- The first Live Brand Experience. The centre piece of the launch activity was a pop-up shop on London’s prestigious Regent Street (obtained for free), containing memorabilia from the original adverts and selling exclusive signed copies of the book. Media and social media activity enticed meerkat fans and the long queues out provided a strong launch day image of the books increasing popularity.
- The first “Live” Broadcast Interviews – Aleksandr’s first ever live TV interview on ITV’s Daybreak aired on the publication day (28th October). The live interview was actually a masterfully produced pre-record, six weeks in the making. And we also managed the meerkat’s first ever “live” radio interviews, in which Aleksandr talked about the new book and its success with stations across the UK.
- Copies of the book with personal messages from Aleksandr - sent to celebrities, journalists and opinion formers

Ongoing Momentum
A series of unusual stories maintained momentum alongside a raft of interviews and gift guide coverage:
- Shortening the odds – joint activity with bookmakers William Hill to show that the odds on A Simples Life being a Christmas bestseller had shortened from 100-1 to 7-1
- The Russians are coming – the story of interest in a Russian translation drove more news coverage, accompanied by picture of A Simples Life being read in St Petersburg

Chris Evans and Michael McIntyre commiserated live on air about how they’d been outsold by Aleksandr, while the media rejoiced in the story that he’d trounced Tony Blair, Katie Price and co.

In numbers
- 1,000 people a day visited the pop-up shop
- Social media interaction around the book was the highest ever for comparethemarket – one Facebook post about the pop-up shop generated over 650 comments
- The campaign generated nearly 450 pieces of media coverage (68 in national print and 13 in national broadcast, including BBC Radio 1,2,5,6, ITV1 (three times), BBC3, Five and Channel 4)
- Evaluation from comparethemarket valued the campaign at nearly £7.5m
- The combined reach of the media relations campaign was over 584 million – every man, woman and child in the UK had ten opportunities to hear or read about the book
- 81/19% broadsheet/tabloid split
- At its peak A Simples Life was selling 7 copies a minute
- And crucially the book hit the number one spot in the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, selling around 500,000 copies by Christmas.

A few words from the media…
- “…the undoubted surprise hit of the year”…”who would’ve thought it?”
- Sky News: “…everyone is talking about it”
- Sunday Times: “Stephen Fry in particular has cause to be miffed. Until two weeks ago his memoirs were predicted to be the highest selling of the year.”