Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Loathsome Marketing, First in a Series

As a demographic unit, I'm a tasty morsel for financial marketers. Born in the center of the baby boom (1957), white collar, single, urban, nicely cash-flowed, investment oriented, and educated, I'm a "good catch," as somebody recently said in another context.

So the American Express spin-off, Ameriprise Financial, had people like me in mind for its new advertising campaign now being flogged on TV and Metro-North trains. These ads tout Ameriprise's financial planning for a generation as "unique" as mine. You may have seen the ads with a VW hippie van morphing into something more modern. Train ads show 15 or so iconic images of the 1960s and 1970s carefully balanced between the social categories we referred to at Mission High School in Texas as the "dopers" and the "ropers."

So, you'll see peace symbols and Cub Scouts, long-haired hippie freaks and cheerleaders, groovy types and squares, images that make me want to tune in to VH1 more than they inspire me to ponder my financial needs.

For this baby-boomer, alas, Ameriprise is establishing a negative brand image. I cringe to see the calculated cultural shorthand that supposedly speaks to my generation, whatever that is. The opening music on the Ameriprise website, "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" by Crazy Elephant, only compounds the problem by showing a total lack of creativity. What could be easier than to dust off 60s music to support a marketing message for baby boomers? I don't learn anything about Ameriprise (not that I'm curious, anyway) but I got a heavy load of 60s shtick. I can only hope Crazy Elephant makes a fortune off the licensing fee -- sticking it to the Man, if you will.

If Ameriprise wanted to grab my attention, its marketing must take risks. Let's start with life insurance. I've got SBLI term insurance with my son as the beneficiary for the day when I'm gathered unto my fathers (later rather than sooner, but living in NYC you never know). So, in all honesty, life insurance is all about dying. With that cheerful thought in mind, I suggest Ameriprise frame its insurance pitch with the song "Don't Fear the Reaper" by the Blue Oyster Cult. That would cut through the clutter and get directly to the point of insurance. I would be mightily impressed. Better yet, have the members of the Blue Oyster Cult talk about their insurance choices.

The same thinking goes for retirement investments. Don't show me gauzy images of silver-haired men and women out boating or dancing at their country club. Talk about survival in a world very unlike the world of our parents, a stable world where my mother worked for 21 straight years at exactly the same job as a secretary at the insurance agency of Conway, Dooley & Martin. What could be more appropriate for retirement planning than Gloria Gaynor belting, "I will survive!" in all her disco majesty? My tagline suggestion for Ameriprise: "You survived Nehru jackets, puka beads, Jimmy Carter, punk rock, and Enron. Now, get ready to survive . . . retirement." Now that's what I call marketing.

I doubt Ameriprise will move in this direction. Probably the baby-boomer narcissism pitch will fizzle out into something even more pedestrian. Then again, perhaps Ameriprise will get desperate and won't fear the reaper.

Full disclosure: By this point you're thinking, "OK, Mr. Mission2Moscow, you think you're so smart, what's your approach to financial planning?" Good question, quick answers: The two biggest influences on my actions have been:

1. Columnist Jonathan Clements of the Wall Street Journal, who strongly supports the use of index funds, which I use for the bulk of my retirement savings

2. Financial expert Andrew Tobias always makes sense to me, with his ruthlessly practical advice. He is a big fan of SBLI.


Anonymous said...

I had exactly the same reaction to the Ameriprise (hokey name too) ad. I was quite offended and I'm more the demographic they were aiming at -- late sixties antiwar protester who entered college in 1967, rapidly nearing retirement. How dare they steal *my* music and trivialize *my* generation? *marintraveller*

Beth said...

Sorry, kiddo. I'll have to take the contrary view. I love the Ameriprise ad (although I do get it confused with another financial services company called Amerifirst), and it definitely cuts through all the ad clutter out there. Of course, any opportunity to experience Sixties nostalgia always warms my heart. (Then again, I think it was Timothy Leary who said that if you do remember the Sixties, you really weren't there.)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your piece but I spend too much time online to see ads anymore. How's Ameriprise supposed to snatch hold of my attention? I'm a marketers nightmare.

joan said...

can't comment about comments on ads, but you give sound investment insights.

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