03 October 2005

Invoking "The Sixties": Fidelity Financial vs. Ameriprise

Two major financial planning companies, Fidelity Investments and Ameriprise, are all agog over Baby Boomers.

Colleague Brent Green dissects Fidelity's recent spot, and overall I agree with him (it's good).

By comparison, Ameriprise's campaign slinks around and takes the low road — invoking 'The Sixties' for no reason other than to unctuously 'brand' their service.

The two spots I've seen open up with a montage (make that a sloppy collage) of standard-issue 'Love-In' stock footage and clips of home movies. There may be some recently shot computer-played-with video mixed into the mess. At some point, a bunch of kids pop out of a VW Bus — and magically morph into fiftysomethings.

Or something. Quite honestly, the spots made me so queasy that I rolled my eyes and turned away.

The through-line for both is something like "Back then you probably weren't thinking much about your financial security."

…… No, we weren't.

This is about as insulting as it gets. Invoking 'The Sixties' for a financial service is plainly absurd. Among other things, it perpetuates the false myth that Baby Boomers want to be teenagers again (or have never wanted to be anything else). And it demeans all that The Sixties represents.

As Brent Green points out, the Fidelity spot takes us through the whole life of an individual. I know it's hard to believe, but we were also alive in the late 70s, 80s, 90s - and will be contributing and helping to shape the next three or four decades.

Ameriprise seems to have no idea what 'The Sixties' meant to any of us - and they proceed to trash it. For some it was purely political. For others, simply fun. For still others, it was a philosophical and/or spiritual awakening. Others found their artistic and creative centers.

But there were millions who found the whole decade horrifying. They shied away from it, had more conservative (or at least quieter) values.

And, I'm guessing, most found it to be a combination of all the above - along with a slew of other qualities too numerous to mention. To somehow reduce it all to climbing out of a time-machine Volkswagen Bus and smiling idiotically…

What if you were targeting the WWII generation for financial services? How would this spot play?: "You survived the Great Depression, danced the jitterbug, fought in trenches and on battleships while watching your buddies being blown up and killed, worked 12-hour shifts as Rosie the Riveter. Back then you probably weren't thinking much about your financial security."

No, they weren't.

How about targeting African-American Baby Boomers? "You were hosed and beaten by police, marched with Martin Luther King, flirted with the philosophies of Malcolm X, danced funky to James Brown and proclaimed yourselves Black and Proud. Back then you probably weren't thinking much about your financial security."

… No, I bet they weren't.

Companies have to think twice (and advertising agencies, three or four times) about gratuitously invoking The Sixties when targeting Baby Boomers. Fidelity Investments gets it right, Ameriprise doesn't.

Related Posts:

Ameriprise vs. Fidelity Financial Redux 4.07.2006

More In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida 4.11.2006

UPDATE: January 3, 2006: I'm getting tired of picking on the Ameriprise campaign - but advertising/marketing and general 'this is my life' blogger Megan isn't.

Read her post, then the comment of hers after mine - about a chat with her father. It says it all:
Tonight I alerted my dad of this upcoming commercial (he was born in '53) and he sighed with exasperation.


  1. Chuck has eloquently addressed a predominant problem confronting companies developing the Boomer market. Na├»ve executives too often rely on hackneyed images of Boomers, while trotting out pedestrian symbols of the sixties. It's as if they believe that adding a peace sign to their TV spot will make it an instant Boomer success. Not so. As Chuck has noted, Boomers have evolved since their teenage years, and their needs are more sophisticated than three decades ago. My suggestion? Read Chuck’s book before your next storyboard presentation to a client or senior executive.

  2. I guess I have a hard time understanding why ad execs see the need to browbeat Boomers with the age thing. I just saw the new Ameriprise (I really should find someone else to pick on, but they're such an easy target!) commercial, with text highlighting that the first Boomers have turned 60, in between licks of "America the Beautiful" on the electric guitar. Okay. 60. Awesome milestone. We know. You've beat the dead horse, now let's move on.

    It surprises me that these stagnant-thinking marketers are even turning a profit. Then again, I imagine the well of success will run dry soon enough if they keep this up.

    Good comments, Brett.

  3. Ah, I take that back. The Ameriprise commercial uses the "Happy Birthday" song, not "America the Beautiful." My mistake! :)

  4. Yes, it's easy to pick on Ameriprise.

    But forget about the ad campaign. If any of this is true, then they are really in trouble:


    That Ameriprise Guitar Player might be the only Baby Boomer working for them....

  5. *Sigh. Like I said, they're only shooting themselves in the foot. You'd think if that's the age group they'd like to target, they'd hire some folks FROM that demographic to get some insight.

    Chuck, have you or do you read any Seth Godin? I recently read "All Marketers are Liars" and it's clear that, while Ameriprise is selling a story, their marketing tactics are simply not believable.

    Anyway, if you haven't yet read it, I'd suggest it!

  6. Megan - you're way too inquisitive and smart, and ask way too many penetrating questions. Some of them have prompted me to write about them - but not here. Maybe in the 2nd edition of my book or in an article somewhere. Why give away the store?

    Seth Goodin is a good guy. Many times, it's good to tell a story. I've also said this.

    But what story are you telling? One about the product or service? One about the customers who already use the product? (Keyword: already) Or are you inventing some B.S. story that has nothing to do with your product or service?

    Sorry for the shameless publicity now, but I talk about this in my book. Don't buy it. Go to your local library and request it. (Libraries seem to be stocking it because it was selected as a classroom resource by The Advertising Educational Foundation.)

    Read all the pundits. They all have something to say. Then think about your client's product or service. One size does not fit all. My size doesn't fit all.

    If you want the real back story about the Ameriprise campaign, google the word lovemarks. This type of campaign doesn't work for Ameriprise. It won't work for most products/services. It will work for some - and those would be ones that already are 'loved' by consumers - so you build on this 'love.' You can't create 'love' out of thin air.