On 21 October 2015 a new advertising campaign hit UK TV screens. Pensions Minister, Baroness Altmann, had a hand in designing the character “Workie” who features in the advert and is said to be the physical embodiment of the workplace pension. The aim of the joint DWP/Pensions Regulator campaign is to raise awareness of workplace pensions amongst employers and employees who will soon be affected by automatic enrolment. As Baroness Altmann said “This is a fun and quirky campaign but behind it lies a very serious message”.

The key question is: will Workie work?

It’s fair to say that the initial reaction of the pensions industry has been less than enthusiastic. Commentators have questioned spending a reported £8.5 million on a ‘silly gimmick’. But meerkats successfully promote an insurance comparison website (other insurance comparison websites are available!) and Workie isn’t aimed at pensions industry insiders.

It remains to be seen whether Workie engages small and micro employers and their employees with workplace pensions and more particularly their respective obligations and options under automatic enrolment. The advert itself doesn’t mention automatic enrolment so it will take an internet search for the audience to make the connection. Nevertheless, raising awareness is an important first step. Achieving widespread compliance is another thing.

The challenge should not be under-estimated. There are around 1.8 million small and micro employers who, during the period to April 2018, will need to comply with their automatic enrolment obligations although the Pensions Regulator has predicted that around 35% of these employers will not in fact employ any eligible jobholders.

worki-2The Pensions Regulator’s website has also been refreshed. Charles Counsell, the Regulator’s executive director for automatic enrolment, commented: “Our website now presents clear options for those small and micro employers who don’t have complex workforces and want instructions on how to comply without having to wade through lots of details”.

If small and micro employers ignore Workie then as Lesley Titcomb, chief executive of the Pensions Regulator, said of them: “Some we will have to nudge, some we will have to kick and some we’ll have to fine”.

Does this imply that Workie, the cute monster, might need to get tough?