Death of Simon the Sloth


Issue 49 | December 2018



Creative Team

Tom Paine, Arizona Doolna, Lizzie Baird, Sam Deane

Production Team

Flying Fish, Kaleidoscope


October 2018


LifeDirect is New Zealand’s leading life insurance aggregation website. For almost ten years, the face of the brand has been their obscure mascot ‘Simon the Sloth’ – a lethargic, animated character who, not surprisingly, had lost relevance. The task was to reinvigorate the brand for New Zealanders 25 – 35; a demographic with an ever-increasing responsibility to insure themselves for the benefit of their dependents. The problem is, they view death as a distant, irrelevant issue.


While many brand mascots die a figurative death, theirs died literally. Simon the Sloth was killed. As a real-time demonstration of the unpredictability of life, and the significant benefits of life insurance, he was pushed off a cliff on ‘live’ TV – 30 channels during primetime, aired just once. The spot showed Simon atop a scenic New Zealand vista. He delivered one of his banal, schmaltzy spiels, before unexpectedly losing his footing, falling to his death, and leaving viewers with nothing but unanswered questions.

As intended, this whipped up a social media ‘WTF’ storm. The following day, a full-page obituary was published in the dailies, announcing that yes, Simon had died, and yes, he’d taken out life insurance, but he’d failed to specify the beneficiaries. Kiwis who ‘knew’ Simon were then invited to share stories about their relationship with him, in order to win a slice of the pay-out. Perhaps you were his long-lost twin? Or an ex-lover from his days in the Navy? Any backstory, no matter how far-fetched, was fair game. Participants entered theirs at using a narrative with quirky pre-populated options, but were encouraged to make up their own. As a result, Simon found himself Photoshopped into photos of personal significance, such as wedding pics and child births; all brazen attempts by New Zealanders to win the insurance claim.

As well as sharing the stories via the entrants’ social channels, the microsite was essentially a hub for data collection, gathering email addresses and redirecting visitors to upon completion of entry. And one lucky winner, Campbell from Wellington (supposedly Simon’s old uni-cycling partner), won a fully paid family trip to Korea – a bucket list trip for his wife.

It’s what Simon would have wanted.


Still waiting on comprehensive results, but Life Direct saw “a significant increase in the volume of Life Insurance applications across the campaign period”.

Our Thoughts

I love this. TV was used to create an event (Simon’s death), but the idea really came to life (heh heh!) in social media.

It’s sales promotion that also happens to be great brand advertising. The paradox is that Simon the sloth was (probably) never as interesting as he became in his last-ever ad.

Rather than being just shockvertising, the idea is pertinent marketing as it is. Both a reminder and a demonstration that life insurance is there to help those who get left behind when the unthinkable happens. And it does, as Simon’s very public demise made all too plain.

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