They just don’t get it!

A friend emailed me recently asking if I knew anyone who is retiring this year.  A producer friend of hers is working on TV videos for Prudential that feature FOF women—and men—telling their real-life stories on “Day One” of their retirement and she was looking for subjects.  I don’t know a soul who is retiring, but I was curious to see what Prudential was doing.

Before I tell you my reaction, here’s how Prudential explains its campaign, which it’s calling Bring Your Challenges: “Connecting emotionally with consumers is an important step in driving brand preference and motivating action,” says Colin McConnell, head of Prudential Advertising. “These real-life stories make Bring Your Challenges hit home on the number one financial challenge—retirement.  We hope the ads leave people wanting to hear more from Prudential,” Colin explains.

“YICK!” is the only emotional reaction these “real-life stories” elicited from me. The videos are depressing. Think AARP LAND TO THE NTH POWER. I didn’t relate to a single person. The “retirees” act like they don’t have an ounce of energy.  Even when one of them is talking about his grandchildren, he seems depressed. The music is lethargic, too. The message is off the mark. The photography, however, is nice and artsy.

“The campaign completely misses. First, it talks about ‘retirement,’ but nobody is retiring,” said Brent Bouchez, founder of Agency five/o, the only ad agency in the United States that focuses exclusively on marketing to the FOF generation.

Brent Bouchez understands the FOF generation. He really understands us!

If Prudential wants to get pre-retirement FOFs into using its financial planning services, why does it resort to portraying those who are newly retired in such a sad light?  “Take a look at the video about a man named Mujahid. It makes you want to just put a bullet in your head instead of retiring,” Brent said. “It’s almost like he’s serving his first day of prison.” Is the campaign designed to scare 45 and 55-year-olds into thinking, ‘I don’t want to be like that when I’m 65!’

Mujahid, presumably on the first day of his retirement

If Prudential and its ad agency really understood the FOF generation (instead of thinking they do),  they would have produced videos of upbeat, energetic, passionate “retirees” who were clients of Prudential before they retired. The message would be: “Prudential’s financial planning expertise gave me the security I wanted and deserved when I retired. So now I can spend the winter on Turks & Caicos.”

One car company featured an FOF couple sneaking a ride in their son’s luxury car when he returned home for the holidays. Now, that’s the spirit!

We ARE an energetic, passionate, upbeat generation, whether we’re 45 or 65. And we’re not retiring. Even if we’re leaving our long-time jobs, we’re becoming entrepreneurs and finding creative and profitable ways to use our passions. There are certainly people in every generation who don’t fit the prevailing attitude and profile of their peers. They’ve lost their jobs and maybe their homes. But those folks certainly are not retiring, which makes the Prudential campaign even more idiotic.

The only thing Prudential’s campaign will succeed in doing is steering FOFs to its competition.

P.S.  Please tell me your reaction to the campaign by commenting on this post.



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22 Responses to “They just don’t get it!”

  1. Nelle Dross says:

    Geri –

    I love your spirit! We need more of you in this world. You are a fighter.



  2. Nelle Dross says:

    Geri –

    I went back to take a look at all the films on the prudential website. They are quite moving and inspiring. Also, the opening titles on each one say “The biggest generation in American history is retiring. 10,000 people each day”. Now I would imagine that this fact has to be true since it is the first year the boomers are retiring. It left me with the thought that it’s not Prudential Geri, it’s indeed you who just don’t get it. It doesn’t seem like Prudential is trying to sell anything, so why such animosity? I am bombarded with solicitations each day, it’s nice to see advertising that isn’t barking at me.

    • Geri says:

      Hi Nelle,

      Perhaps you’re right. I don’t get it.


  3. Nelle Dross says:

    Geri –

    I am a big fan of your blog, but I agree with Steeltip (not sure what that means though). The films and the website are an honest portrayal of real people first day of retire. In no way, do they talk about or make promises about the 30+ years these people will probably live and enjoy to its fullest.

    You make a lot of contradictions. You say nobody is retiring now, but then make a suggestion that these commercial would be improved if “Prudential’s financial planning expertise gave me the security I wanted and deserved when I retired. So now I can spend the winter on Turks & Caicos.” How in 2012, is that a reality? I am just trying to to enjoy my retirement. A winter on an island is way beyond my means. Our society needs to stop promising a false realities and take a moment to talk about real people.
    Give credit to Prudential for talking to REAL people, not actors, like Dennis Hopper…

    • geri says:

      Hi Nelle,

      I understand why you think there’s a contradiction. Let me elucidate: The type of retirees Prudential portrays don’t have the assets to invest with Prudential. And those who can afford to invest aren’t doing what the people in the ads do.

      Prudential would be better off trying to connect with people who are more likely to use its financial planning services: People who can afford to relax in places like Turks & Caicos (I did put “retirees” in quotes, meaning they aren’t really retired.


  4. steelytrip says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Bouchez (because anyone who wears sunglasses in their headshot clearly puts a lot of thought into some form of branding), the approach you suggest is exactly the approach this category has taken for years. Whale watching, golfing, vineyards, etc.

    Perhaps you’re right, and the reason the category so consistently clings to that approach is because FOFs are a monolithic group that prefers a fantasy-based approach to retirement. But I would argue that is a far more patronizing, disingenuous, and dated approach. I can see Don Draper going that route. But that’s long since been the world we live in, culturally or financially. I think all things being equal Prudential’s approach is to be candid and honest.

    So let’s be honest: retirement is a scary subject for most people right now. Slapping smiling faces and fun on the story doesn’t change that. Optimism is hope in the face of reality. Not vapid smiling faces. They’re selling retirement, not toothpaste.

    Again, maybe that’s wrong. Time will tell. But it seems a bit early for such thorough Monday morning quarterbacking.

    • Geri says:

      Hi Steelytrip,

      Actually, I’m not advocating the approach the category has taken for years…whale watching, etc. Quite the contrary. I am saying that we’re NOT retiring…we’re not scared of retirement because we don’t intend to retire.

      “We ARE an energetic, passionate, upbeat generation, whether we’re 45 or 65. And we’re not retiring. Even if we’re leaving our long-time jobs, we’re becoming entrepreneurs and finding creative and profitable ways to use our passions. There are certainly people in every generation who don’t fit the prevailing attitude and profile of their peers. They’ve lost their jobs and maybe their homes. But those folks certainly are not retiring, which makes the Prudential campaign even more idiotic.”

      I don’t think Prudential needed to slap smiling faces on the story. It just needed to understand our generation.


      • steelytrip says:

        If they’re not retiring then the content of Prudential’s retirement advertising is completely immaterial, and you don’t have to get cranky about it. They’ll be so relieved.

  5. Leslie Bonner says:

    Sandy has it so right – we don’t see ourselves as old! OK, maybe when we look in the mirror and see our Mother (or Grandmother) staring back or when we have aches and pains that we didn’t used to have – but, instead we feel the same inside as when we were 16 or 36.

    Some advertisers have 40 year old men and women with a gray wigs on that are supposedly seniors. And don’t get me started on the cosmetic companies and women’s magazines. Do they think we are stupid when they have photos of airbrushed older women? Hey, I saw her on TV and she’s lovely but she has lines and wrinkles like the rest of us.

    Maybe they need to feature some real seniors, vibrant and happy people who are enjoying their retirement, whether they are traveling the world or taking classes. Admittedly there are many who have not retired by choice and many who are facing limitations in health and money.

    Again, Sandy had it right – appeal to our joys not our fears.

  6. Sandy says:

    I used to work in Advertising. The creative department is often pressured by the client who wants their product to look a certain way. The client thinks they know who they’re addressing because that’s how it’s always been. Or they’re nervous because so much money is invested, so they make what they see as safe choices. I’ve found a lot of ad campaigns don’t understand a lot of people: retiring people, seniors, women in general, plus-sized woman (size 12 is a plus size??), lower-income people. I used to work at a retirement community, and it was a hothouse of sex and hooking up. Made me proud, gave me hope for my own future. We’re all young inside until the day we die. That’s how we see ourselves. We look in the mirror as we age, and we see a stranger because that’s not who we are inside. So we don’t relate to ‘old’ in commercials. That’s what these clients and advertisers need to know — and some of them are old, too, by the way. We relate to our interests, to fun, to connection and communication, like we always have all of our lives, since the day we were born and until we die. Connect to our joys, not our fears. I personally will listen more if you can help me have joy in my life.

  7. Duchesse says:

    I don’t have a TV so don’t know the ads, but re Donna O’Sullivan’s comment: I don’t know exactly how much money I’ll have- nor will anyone *unless they have a defined-benefits pension*.

    And Geri, not everyone retired is interested in “finding creative and profitable ways to use their passions”. Some just want to finally get enough sleep, take long walks, hang out with friends without having to go somewhere else, read 950 books that were on hold while they were in the rat race. Why such pressure to be productive till the last breath?

    For me retirement is about doing what I want with my time.

  8. Sheila Brennan says:

    I’m so glad to hear, Geri, that others are disgusted with this medical mail bomb campagin. I turned 65 in early September and with recent health care (lack of insurance)issues, I was delighted to have Medicare medical offered. Medicare is confusing enough by itself, even if you make an appointment and speak with a rep in person. My caution to everyone is to take the optional perscription coverage while you have a limited time to make other choices. I wish now that I had kept and weighted the masses of mail I received from Health Care providers before and since my birthday. Even after using basic Medicare for about 2 months, I did choose to go with another company that uses my Medicare payment for my coverage, plus provides free and reduced perscriptions, assistance with cost of specialists and when I know more about it, will offer gym membership to help with some preventative maintenance. Even after making these choices, I’m still getting those other medical mail pamphlets….the quantity has decreased. However, I expect that they will further barage me when the open elective season starts in 2012! UGH!

    • Barbara-b says:

      Thank you Geri. You are so right. These ads are depressing and do not relect reality. Getting inside the head of the retiree is a very difficult thing and obviously the younger generation is not there yet. I read a blog written by a younger person “practicing” for retirement and then writing about it. It is like a 2 year old is practicing to be 25. Really it is not a good thing. In my world of retirement (15 years) people continue to work and live, love and play and best of all, to learn.

      Sadly though the TV world really does shape our self image. I suppose this is a plea for some balance. If the spotlight is going to be on seniors then please just let it be integrated with life in the real world where people are content and active. That is what I am seeing. Retirement is a bit like graduating from college…you’ve have a lifetime of education so get out there and use what you have learned!

      Thank you for this article. As for AARP, I still feel that they need to reinvent themselves. Times they are a changing!


  9. Donna Hull says:

    I don’t think Prudential is the only company portraying boomers and retirement in an unrealistic light. Most of the ads I see show silver-haired men and women — none of my boomer friends look like that. And you’re right, Geri, we’re energetic people looking to reinvent ourselves not be put out to pasture.

  10. Donna O'Sullivan says:

    Are you kidding? I’ve seen the ads and find them incredibly depressing and condescending. It certainly doesn’t make retirement look appealing. I have issues with the word ‘retire’ anyway. What does that mean? Do we step off the treadmill we’re on and go sink into a wing chair with a large print edition of Reader’s Digest? I’m 55 years old and have a very demanding career in healthcare finance. Do I need to call Prudential and ask them to help me because I can’t handle my finances and I don’t know what to dooooooooo??? Will I want to ‘scale down’ a bit in ten or fifteen years? Possibly. Does Prudential have financial tools that I might be interested in to supplement what I’ve already done to ensure I’m comfortable when I want to start ‘scaling down’? Possibly. Have they piqued my interest? Nope. I have to laugh at one of the ads in particular. It’s the one where the lady’s delighted not to have an alarm clock wake her up anymore – she says something like “I don’t know how much money I’ll have to live on but I will live within it”. She doesn’t know how much money she’ll have to live on? Gee, Prudential, what’s up with that??

  11. Eunice Coughlin says:

    I thought I was the only one who thought these commercials were just depressing, especially the one where the guy is eating his dinner on a TV table with his family gathered around him…just awful! What happened to the commercials with Dennis Hopper on the beach? Now those were exciting! And I love the one with the parents leaving their Gen Y kids at home while they go have fun. I think they have 20-something fresh-out-of-grad-school kids writing and producing these commercials because they don’t reflect OUR boomer reality at all.

  12. Toby Wollin says:

    ayyyyyyyy. Well, let’s see now – who do I think did the strategy and writing on that ad campaign? A couple of bright young things less than 35 – who based the whole thing on their grandparents and Billy Crystal’s ‘show and tell’ speech to his son’s class from “City Slickers’ about getting old and dying. Frankly, I don’t watch commercial tv for a lot of reasons (I’d like to take the high road and claim it’s quality; frankly, the geography around my house works against us), so I’ll never see this campaign. But the other reason is that I don’t have time to waste on watching that sort of junk – I’m starting a business; I’ve got an active blog, and I just signed on to do marketing for a local downtown business development organization. My husband and I are taking up Spanish to prepare for a trip in the fall to Spain where we plan to take some cooking and wine workshops. I’m still working full time as well. And our financial planners are very clued into the fact that we made the decision on where our next development is going and it doesn’t include rocking chairs.

  13. Flo Schell says:

    I would suggest that Prudential look at the work of Mary Catherine Bateson, anthropologist and author of Composing a Further Life. Since the boomer generation is the first to have an additional 15 or more years of active life, it is time to redefine what the years between 50+ and beyond look like.

    She has done so by naming those years Adulthood II or the Years of Active Wisdom. It is in these years that we share our talents with our loved ones and the world in a new way. It is a time of engaging with life in a new way.

    As one who is inspired by the idea of this second adulthood, I have recently written a book called Wisdom of the 8 Bowls: a modern myth for women at midlife and beyond. It takes women through a journey from where we are now to where we would like to be as wise women in the world.

    More information available by emailing:

    Boomers are still going strong and will continue to do so for a long, long time! I hope Prudential rethinks this campaign. We just will not relate.


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