Looking back at the ‘Don’t get mugged’ campaign

Law Society: controversial campaign

Posted by Martyn Gilbert of Litigation Futures sponsor Spencers Solicitors

Throughout July and August 2013 the Law Society wanted to send a clear message to the public – that they should always seek legal advice following an accident, especially before agreeing to any kind of settlement.

However, in delivering this message, the society took a controversial approach, and the insurance industry remains upset about the campaign’s tagline – ‘Don’t get mugged by an insurer’.

We see this tongue-in-cheek marketing technique employed all the time. I remember the clever comparative ads run by Microsoft, which suggested that Google’s (competing) products were invading the privacy of internet users and warned people not to get ‘Scroogled’.

For me ‘Don’t get mugged…’ fell into this tried-and-tested ad category that highlights an issue in a blunt and comparative manner. But still the insurance sector has taken offence and holds some strong opinions against it, which we’ll get into.

The message

First let’s take a look at the purpose behind the Law Society’s campaign, which is to raise awareness about the dangers of third-party capture.

A simple example of how third-party capture works in a road accident…

  • An innocent driver is crashed into;
  • The guilty driver contacts their insurance company to inform them that they’ve had an accident;
  • The insurer receives information about the accident, including that their driver was probably at fault and the details of the innocent (and potentially injured) driver;
  • The insurer then tries to contact the innocent driver to offer an amount in full settlement for any injuries they may have sustained.

The consensus of the legal industry is that by accepting this offer, the innocent driver will probably receive much less in compensation than their injuries actually warrant. Compensation typically needs to cover pain and suffering, medical treatment, time off work, alternative travel and much more – which an offer straight after the accident won’t ever be able to account for.

The Law Society believes more people ought to know about this practice, as the convenience behind an insurer’s early-settlement offer is often far outweighed by the amounts gained in a comprehensive legal claim.

Conveying all this information in an eye-catching ad is a challenge, so it’s unsurprising that a short sharp campaign message was opted for. But it’s this message that has really caused the controversy.

The insurer’s view

Speaking on the campaign’s message, Nick Starling, director of general insurance at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: “It is the legal community that are doing the mugging, not insurers. And it is the insurance-paying public that is paying the price through higher premiums as a result of excessive legal fees and frivolous and dishonest personal injury claims.”

James Dalton, the ABI’s head of motor and liability, added: “With excessive legal fees a key factor in pushing up motor insurance costs, and ambulance-chasing lawyers and some claims management firms encouraging a ‘have a go’ compensation culture, it is not insurers who are guilty here.”

Then, in case there was any doubt on the ABI’s position, director-general Otto Thoresen described the campaign as “little more than public name-calling” in a letter to the Law Society calling for the campaign to be withdrawn.

All this, along with six complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), led the advertising watchdog to look into the campaign, which it ultimately found did not breach its code.

The Law Society’s view

Throughout the unrelenting calls from the ABI to pull the campaign, the Law Society has stood firm in its support of the message and in its delivery.

Law Society president Nick Fluck responded the ABI’s letter, reminding that they themselves have even queried if their code of practice around third-party capture was “robust enough for the industry”.

He said: “If even the ABI is acknowledging that the code is not fit for purpose, I cannot see how consumers can have any confidence that the ‘third party assistance’ process will be to their, rather than the insurer’s advantage – again justifying the need for our public information campaign”

Then following the ASA complaints, the society came out again defending its approach: “We are not Coca-Cola or Direct Line. Our marketing budgets are much more limited. In order to maximise their effectiveness, our adverts need to be eye-catching and memorable.”

Your view?

Was the campaign ‘little more than public name-calling’ from the ‘ambulance-chasing lawyers’, or should the Law Society have gotten a slap on the wrist for ‘misleading’ and ‘defamatory’ ads?

Leave a comment and let me know

Martyn Gilbert is the chief information officer at Spencers Solicitors and has worked in the legal industry for over 16 years, delivering various public awareness campaigns