Is Workie, the government's psychedelic embodiment of the workplace pension, a hit with audiences - or is it P45 time?

Will Wynne
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Workie has been on our screens for nearly a month (Source: DWP)

Eyebrows have been raised at his £8.5m price tag; Baroness Altmann, the pensions minister, has taken to her government blog to defend him and he's been described (somewhat uncharitably) as an "outrageously condescending supersized gonk". So the question "Workie", the government's psychedelic embodiment of workplace pensions, working?

It's clear something had to be done to get the message out to small firms. Approximately 1.75 million employers must set up a workplace pension and automatically enrol their staff by February 2018.

If they don't, they risk hefty fines (up to thousands of pounds a day) and, in extreme cases, they could end up in jail for two years. With massive penalties like these a possibility, it's eminently sensible for the government to let employers know about their duties.

Enter Workie. The previous government campaign focused primarily on educating employees on the benefits of workplace pensions so they wouldn't opt out - you may have seen Theo Paphitis and various others declaring "we're all in" - or even the so-bonkers-it's-brilliant "We're all in rap" (120,000+ views).

The Pensions Regulator also sent over a million letters to employers informing them of their duties. Finally, a few weeks ago, the DWP unveiled Workie and released him onto the air waves between Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

It's an amusing and light-hearted campaign (aided by having quirky funnyman Tim Key supplying the voiceover) and is undoubtedly bizarrely memorable.

But it's also undercooked in making the very important point to employers that they really must take this seriously - or else. I don't think that comes across sufficiently and would hope this message is hammered home more significantly in later creative iterations.

To find out what a wider UK audience thinks of the DWP’s hirsute harbinger, we carried out a survey. The results make for encouraging reading for Workie: 13 per cent of the 500 respondents recognised he represents workplace pensions. Two weeks into a lengthy campaign that is a good result, albeit with the caveat that a slightly higher figure (14 per cent) thought he was advertising something aimed at children. Awkward.

We also asked people what Workie reminded them of. Unsurprisingly, the clear winner was Sully from Monsters Inc, though Gizmo from Gremlins came a strong second.

Perhaps the message is that unless workplace pensions are handled with due care and attention, employers could have a vicious gremlin on their hands. Given encouraging early recognition results, I’m confident Workie is working okay so far and isn’t due a P45 just yet.

I certainly don't share the view of one grumpy respondent that Workie is “a complete waste of £8.5m of taxpayers' money”. We'll find out soon enough...

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