We're not quite sure who this plasticine man is, and why he has such a colourful array of raincoats, but he's been appearing all over the London Underground in the last week, as part of Beyond.life's hastily assembled advertising campaign, after their original campaign was deemed offensive by advertising standards authorities.
Beyond is the moneysupermarket.com of the funeral market. It allows consumers to compare prices and services from funeral directors in their local area, as well as the opportunity to write wills, compare funeral plans and settle an estate.
Since Transport for London deemed Beyond's ads potentially offensive, the team behind the campaign have enjoyed press coverage the world over, including the BBC and the New York Times. Whether getting the ads banned and generating this kind of press coverage was Beyond's plan all along, remains up for debate. Regardless of their original intentions, it's worked.
Life. Death. Whatever. exists because we believe we NEED to talk about death and dying as a society. We're all going to die and we believe that how we handle that fact matters enormously. We encourage discussion and debate in a gentle, sensitive and considerate way, rather than a crass, tasteless, insensitive and attention grabbing way that feeds on the media's sensationalism of anything to do with death.
Planning a funeral is nothing like planning a wedding. That's why 'funeral planners' don't exist in the same way that wedding planners do. A funeral is a distress purchase - the psychology behind it is totally different. We'll never 'buy' funerals like we buy weddings, because of the nature of the emotions involved. It's traumatic, difficult and usually unfamiliar territory for the people involved.
We want to start an honest discussion about funerals and whether the UK funeral profession is really fit for purpose. Part of that discussion is how we advertise bereavement services in the UK. If it's not photos of couples staring into the sunset or older people holding hands on a park bench, it's sensationalist headlines designed to shock and cause outrage. Where's the compassionate, helpful and practical middle ground? It's not a quick fix in the form of an attention grabbing campaign aimed at getting as many hits on a price comparison website as possible; it's going to take a movement of dedicated and well-intentioned people with a long-term strategy to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, because it's the right thing to do.
There are some dreadful and exploitative funeral directors out there, like the car salesman funeral director depicted in the ad above. But what Beyond are currently failing to recognise is that this conversation needs to be about so much more than price. It needs to be about quality, service and value for money. After all, why do we have funerals in the first place? Why do we go to all this fuss and expense? Because we need funerals - they're an essential part of our dying, our deaths, our grief, our lives and our living.
In order to future proof itself to an increasingly aware public, the funeral profession needs an emotionally intelligent, sensitive, person centric and creative approach to encourage the public to have a difficult conversation.
So thank you to Beyond for opening up this conversation. But can we now put the ads aside and have the real conversation? The conversation we so desperately need to have. And not with the plasticine man in his yellow mac.