Youve seen the ads.
How old is the oldest person youve known?
On a sunny urban American plaza, kindly professor Dan Gilbert
asks everyday folks to place a sticker, affix a magnet, paint a
wall, or pull a ribbon to together dramatize the gulf between
the retirement Americans imagine and whats actuarially in
store. Cognitive biases, left unchecked, lead people to the
predictable catastrophe of savings running out before their
years do. Yet the problem isnt ignorance. Prudential
knows within a normal distribution when were all going to
die, and how much well spend arriving there in comfort.
The challenge is convincing us.
Its tough, says Colin McConnell,
Prudential Financials chief brand officer. People
always refer to this as a low-engagement category and I
bristle at that. McConnell has also changed that, or at
least made Prudential an exception to the generally limp and
clichéd genre of financial services advertising. A
lot of these totems of retirement have been used for years
think yachts and Adirondack chairs, McConnell
says, seated in his roomy office at Prudentials Newark,
New Jersey, headquarters.
Swap Ask your doctor for Not guaranteed by
the FDIC, and a Viagra commercial becomes a typical
retirement product ad: frisky heterosexuals of a certain age
really enjoying life.
The industrys well-tread ways of depicting retirement
underwhelmed McConnell, who has been in charge of
Prudentials advertising since 2009. The bar, as he sees
it, was low, but the material inherently strong. The
story were trying to tell is emotional; its
intellectual; its about life, he says. Why
cant we be interesting about life? So in 2010 he
challenged his team at Prudential and its outside ad agency,
Droga5, to just find a new way to say it the
narrative of life post-work. And I think we
During halftime of the 2012 Super Bowl, with the New York
Giants midway to victory, the largest U.S. media market paused
for Linda Gutherie, a widow on her first day of retirement.
Its kind of hard to make decisions by yourself all
of a sudden, she says, when youve been making
them with someone else for 35 years. Gutherie looks like
a real person because she is one, McConnell says, with khaki
shorts and glasses and walls crowded with family portraits.
I guess theres something in me thats always
been strong, she says, now naturally lit in front of a
weeping willow. Music rises. On a navy screen, a phrase
appears: Insuring that life goes on is what life
insurance is all about. The Prudential logo appears.
The Day One campaign was the first iteration of
Prudentials radical documentary-style retelling of the
retirement story. The stickers, magnets, Harvard professor Dan
Gilbert, and millions upon millions of YouTube views came next.
Even as Day One was out there,
McConnell says, we were working to crack the code of data
visualization and behavioral insights. They looked at
other ostensibly dry categories and sought out viral hits.
Where did someone get 2 million views on something you
wouldnt expect? Then we reversed-engineered. A TED
Talk on population growth by global health professor Hans
Rosling proved one source of inspiration, according to
McConnell. We looked at five or six core behavioral
insights, and added a social element, because it was clear that
this campaign should be about them, the community, not about
us. I remember looking at the storyboard for stickers and
thinking, This is going to be the greatest commercial in
financial services for a long time.
Which isnt to say there werent doubters. Early
on, McConnells team shared footage from the Day
One shoots with Prudentials other stakeholders.
It was polarizing, he remembers. Marketing
loved it. But distribution initially said, Wheres
the 1-800 number? Wheres the website? Having
spent the bulk of his career at Prudential, McConnell has
earned a long rope from higher-ups and loyalty from below, a
colleague says. The bold campaign might have crashed and
burned, but Prudential was willing to support its takeoff.
Apprehension from the sales team evaporated after a client
focus group viewed and loved some early cuts,
according to Christine Marcks, president of Prudential
Retirement. Now the campaigns are one of the factors that
attract talent. People are proud to say they work here.
Even the sales team? Theyre always asking,