The meerkat is a small mammal. Its large eyes and its habit of standing on its hind legs make it extremely telegenic.
It is native to southern Africa. It is not found in Russia, nor could it survive there in the wild – at least not for long.
So the very notion of a Russian meerkat is absurd – so absurd that it is both amusing and memorable. That is the rationale behind the success of Aleksandr Orlov, an anthropomorphic meerkat with a thick Russian accent who fronts the advertising for a British insurance company. Aleksandr professes outrage that the company’s website, “Compare the Market”, is often confused with his own, “Compare the Meerkat”.
This joke has become very elaborate. Anyone who actually looks for the “Compare the Meerkat” website will find that it exists – subtly directing customers on to the insurance site.
The biggest joke of all is that Aleksandr has proved very profitable. The insurance company has prospered even in recession, and Aleksander has become a secondary income stream in his own right.
The idea of taking two wholly unrelated concepts – in this case an African mammal and the tropes of classic Russian literature – can be applied to more than advertising. It has also led to breakthrough moments in product development, technical innovation, and even business strategy.
However, it can be overdone. Vinnie, an anthropomorphic panda with a New York accent and more than a hint of organised crime about him, is selling Fox’s biscuits. A New York Panda is as good as a Moscow meerkat, but where the insurance company’s name links in to the parody very nicely, the name of the biscuit company adds confusion. A Mafiosi fox might have been better: the connection of two disconnected elements can be witty and original, but to try to connect three may be too ambitious.
Lateral thinking can be very effective, but only so long as it is not overcomplicated – or, as our favourite meerkat would say, keep it “simples”.
See our selection of other Aleksandr Orlov videos: