Brand Strategy Fast-Growth Brands Audio

Sound FX: Sheilas’ Wheels still singing a decade after the music stopped

By Alex Hurley, Director of planning

JAA Media


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Find out more

February 15, 2022 | 5 min read

If you’re looking for best-in-class brands to learn from in 2022, a car insurance company gone quiet for 10 years might be an unlikely place to start. But a recent study found that the Sheilas’ Wheels earworm still has power all these years on. Alex Hurley, director of planning at John Ayling & Associates, investigates the tricks behind its longevity.

JAA Media on what marketers can learn from the longstanding success of car insurance brand Sheila's Wheels.

JAA Media on what marketers can learn from the longstanding success of car insurance brand Sheila’s Wheels

Mark Ritson and Soundout recently published the results of a study of 14,400 consumers, ranking the top 10 brands with the most effective sonic identity.

Most of the brands on the list won’t be surprising you – few can resist reciting the sonic asset of Netflix, Intel or Just Eat at a mere mention.

There was one surprise: the appearance of Sheilas’ Wheels in seventh place. Surprising not because the sonic asset is inherently weaker (that’s not for me to decide), but because it’s a brand which has received very little advertising support since 2013.

So what is it about Sheilas’ Wheels that has delivered such an enduring impact? How can a brand with little to no recent advertising support beat giants such as McDonald’s and Haribo for over 14,000 Brits in 2021?

Brand assets and promise

As Ritson identifies, Sheilas’ Wheels is arguably one of the most distinctive brands in the insurance category. From the start, Sheilas’ Wheels had a strong palette of the distinctive brand assets so coveted in the work of Sharp & Romaniuk. The first of these is the sonic asset, which was found to clearly match the personality of the brand (89%) and appealed to over 70%. This emotionally-responsive sonic asset is allied to the Sheilas, the strong pink logo and the 1957 Ford Mercury.

Each of these individual assets worked closely together to help the brand’s launch punctuate the category and clearly demonstrated a genuinely innovative offering of lower prices for female drivers. This is arguably the most important feature of the brand assets serving to cue brand promise.

There’s more to the story than a successful launch and strong assets. Having created a disruptive and distinctive brand in 2005, their advertising was ruthlessly consistent. While the lyrics of the song changed between 2005 and 2013, the fundamentals of the ads remained the same.

Embrace familiarity

The same was true of the media plan: over 80% of budget during that period was on TV, with the time length of 30” only changing for the introduction of sponsorships. The lesson here is that instead of being overly concerned with wear-out or the need for a refresh, the distinctive innovator was allowed to become familiar.

This consistency was helped by a significant budget. In 18 months after launch the brand enjoyed over £10m of advertising support, achieving 7% share of voice (SOV) according to Nielsen AdIntel. Testament to this approach is the whopping 78% recall a new ad received in a single week in 2007.

Despite only being available to half the population, the singing Sheilas were given the support to make them famous, with competitions and even a release of a single. In a short period this approach made the brand part of culture and started a debate in many homes about who made the safest drivers.

The Sheilas’ Wheels effect in 2022

Certainly, in 2022 there are challenges for brands seeking to emulate the success of Sheilas’ Wheels. The increasing diversification of media habits, significant inflation and increasing difficulty in securing completed views of longer time lengths would at the very least require even more investment.

Though the tactics may need changing, the approach of applying a distinctive palette of brand assets consistently and to a wide audience remains a strong strategy for long-term effectiveness. As Ritson’s study highlights, the effects can last longer than many would expect.

Brand Strategy Fast-Growth Brands Audio

Content by The Drum Network member:

JAA Media

JAA is the UK’s original independent media agency. For updates please visit our website or LinkedIn profile page.

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +