The price comparison website Comparethemarket has pulled its ads featuring the animated Russian meerkat Aleksandr Orlov from news bulletins in light of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The company – which spent an estimated £90m on marketing in the UK over the last year, about two-thirds of which was on TV campaigns – said it had reviewed its media plan to make sure the ads did not appear around content such as news bulletins on the Ukrainian conflict.
“The Comparethemarket meerkats are fictional characters,” said a spokesperson for the company, which is owned by the Peterborough-based financial services firm BGL. “They have no association with Russia and the current situation. We are continually reviewing our advertising to ensure we’re being sensitive to the current situation.”
The ads – which feature Orlov, a Russian billionaire meerkat from Moscow and his sidekick, Sergei – have run since 2009 and have been instrumental in taking the 16-year-old company from also-ran status to one of the top comparison sites in the UK.
Orlov’s catchphrase, “simples”, became so widespread it was included in the Collins English Dictionary in 2010.
The character – who is voiced by Simon Greenall, perhaps best known as Michael the geordie handyman from I’m Alan Partridge – competes against other catchy creations in the price comparison sector including Gocompare’s opera singer Gio Compario, played by the Welsh singer Wynne Evans.
The invasion of Ukraine has put the spotlight on firms using or selling products that might be associated with the conflict or Russia.
Last week, British supermarkets came under pressure on social media to rename chicken kievs to “kyivs” to show solidarity with Ukraine, whose capital is Kyiv in Ukrainian, Kiev in Russian.
The US restaurant chain Applebee’s was forced to pull a lighthearted promotional TV ad campaign after CNN aired it as part of a split screen as news coverage showed air raid sirens being sounded in the Ukrainian capital.
“Brands need to be aware of context, the tone and timing of advertising,” said Dave Barnett, the managing director of the media agency December 19. “It isn’t just about whether an ad or piece of marketing has a direct connection to a conflict or event. Context is king, this has always been true, but never more so than when there is a major world event happening.”