How this senior marketing exec is using his psychology doctorate to promote an ‘unknown’ brand

Adrian Britten is probably one of the most qualified marketers in the business — but his degree isn't in marketing. He is a chartered psychologist with a doctorate gained in 1989.

And he's using it to help the relatively "unknown" brand he works for become more recognizable, as global director of communications and brand at international insurer MS Amlin. Previously known as Amlin (once a U.K.-listed business), it was bought by Japanese company MS&AD for $5.34 billion in 2016.

MS Amlin operates from offices in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America and is well-known in certain markets. "To reach out beyond that, we are not known, so we have to be able to articulate a message about who and what we are. Otherwise it's just this random name, (and people might say) I don't know who they are, I don't know what they do, I don't know why they're here," he told CNBC.

It's for this reason that Britten looks for marketing opportunities that let the company talk about what it does in an interesting way, and, given his psychology background, he knows will have an impact. Since taking up the role in 2012, he's looked for sponsorships that will work with MS Amlin's reason for being: providing continuity of business for clients when something goes wrong.

An MS&AD Andretti Formula E team racing car
Shiv Gohil | MS&AD Andretti
An MS&AD Andretti Formula E team racing car

But instead of putting a logo on a shirt in a mainstream sport such as soccer, as many financial services companies have done, he pushes for greater team access and relationships.

"I'm a psychologist by training, I'm a psychologist now … and it's reasonably clearly understood how sponsorship does and doesn't work," he told CNBC.

"Your task as an unknown brand is to generate conversations about yourself in relation to the asset that you are sponsoring. If you are a high-profile brand and you stick your logo on somebody's t-shirt or perimeter hoarding that can work, but the degree of return is absolutely tiny because of the degree of attention or (psychological) processing is tiny."

Formula E sponsorship

When Britten joined the business in 2012, Amlin's European rugby sponsorship was coming to an end. He read about the new electric car race Formula E in a U.K. newspaper and it felt like a natural fit.

After speaking to some of the racing teams, the company became a founding sponsor in 2013. Its team, MS&AD Andretti, is one of 10 competing in the global championship, where cars race down the Champs Elysees in Paris, along the harbor in Hong Kong and past the Colosseum in Rome, among other cities.

Britten liaises directly with the Formula E team's rights holder Michael Andretti, rather than dealing with a sponsorship agency, and says this makes for a better relationship. When MS Amlin clients are invited to races, they can meet the drivers and go to the garage, rather than being schmoozed in a hospitality suite. And it's also where business conversations happen: At a Buenos Aires race, a broker told Britten's team that the sponsorship had helped it become the best-known reinsurer in Argentina.

A Formula E ePrix race in Hong Kong's Central Harbourfront Circuit in December 2017
Getty Images
A Formula E ePrix race in Hong Kong's Central Harbourfront Circuit in December 2017

But Britten had to convince MS Amlin Chief Executive Charles Philipps that the investment would be worth it (he declines to provide a figure, but says it's in line with the company's previous rugby involvement). Once he explained that the championship went to 11 cities around the world, often in central locations easier to access than Formula One races, and that it had a social purpose — to show the potential of sustainable vehicles — Philipps was sold.

Insurance and electric cars might seem like an unlikely fit, but MS Amlin is all about making sure businesses can operate after a "loss event," such as after a hurricane, Britten explains.

"Formula E (is) about trying to say electric cars are not milk floats (electric vehicles that delivered milk to U.K. households) any more, they do actually go quite fast and they are quite compelling, so you might consider one as a way of changing your transport behavior and therefore have an impact on emissions," he told CNBC.

"Of course emissions relate to weather events, which as an insurer, we are concerned about weather events because the more there are, the more difficult it is to insure, the more costly it is to insure and the more difficult it is for communities to remain resilient."

Detail from Church, by Marguerite Horner, winner of the National Open Art themed prize for an artwork 2017, sponsored by MS Amlin
Marguerite Horner | MS Amlin | National Open Art
Detail from Church, by Marguerite Horner, winner of the National Open Art themed prize for an artwork 2017, sponsored by MS Amlin

While it isn't easy to measure the exact impact of a sponsorship without expensive research, Britten claims the Formula E deal has resulted in a 7.5- to 10-fold return on investment. That's based on advertising value equivalent or AVE, a measure relating to media coverage and the amount that would have cost the business had it spent money on equivalent advertising.

National Open Art awards

MS Amlin also sponsored two categories in the U.K.'s National Open Art awards in November 2017, with artist Marguerite Horner winning the insurer's brief to portray "continuity in an uncertain world," with a striking painting of a makeshift church at the refugee jungle camp in Calais in 2014.

"They created a space in a horrible environment. Human beings are social pack animals, we work best when we come together, when we collaborate and face challenges and difficulties together. That's what (Horner) depicted, the continuity actually that's us (MS Amlin), that's what we do, we achieve that continuity because we are always there with each other," Britten said.