Merkley Pulls Strings in Axa Debut

NEW YORK Merkley + Partners’ first campaign for Axa Equitable uses a gorilla character in an effort to prod baby boomers to invest in annuities for their retirement.

The $10 million push, which includes two TV spots, four print ads and keywords on search engines, breaks today.

The gorilla (actually an actor in a gorilla suit with a mouth controlled by puppeteers) personifies the “800-pound gorilla in the room” that is retirement planning, said Barbara Goodstein, executive vice president of marketing and product development at Axa Equitable, a division of Axa Financial in New York that sells life insurance and annuities.

One spot takes place at a kitchen table, where a couple in their 50s are eating breakfast. The gorilla makes a similar pitch for annuities “so you can relax and enjoy your eggs,” before shrugging and adding, “But what do I know? I’m just the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

In another spot, the gorilla wakes up a different couple in bed by turning on a light switch. “Pssst. Are you asleep? OK, pretend I’m not here. But we still need to talk about insurance and other assets for retirement,” the gorilla says. The spot ends with a female voice that says, “Want guaranteed income for life? Ask for an annuity from Axa Equitable.”

The tagline, “Be life confident,” replaces Axa’s previous “Your future. Your way.” Previous ads, from Interpublic Group’s The Martin Agency, aimed to develop a corporate image and weren’t tied to a specific offering.

Omnicom Group’s Merkley landed the account in February after a review, and the gorilla concept was part of the New York shop’s winning pitch, said agency CEO Alex Gellert. “We wanted to find an interesting, compelling way” to express the importance of planning for retirement, Gellert said.

The campaign primarily targets adults in their 50s, particularly those with children about to graduate from college, Goodstein said. Axa also is trying to reach people with at least $150,000 in investment assets as well as brokers at insurance companies.

Goodstein described the gorilla as approachable, understandable, intelligent and appealing to both men and women. And although there is a hint of self-deprecation in his message, “This is more subtle. In fact, somebody called him a Socratic gorilla,” Goodstein said.

Added Gellert: “He’s the inner thought of people. He’s sincere, real. Not lecture-y, not selling hard.”