It's an old schoolteacher's trick to silence a noisy classroom by speaking quietly. With any luck, everyone will hush up out of curiosity to hear what the teacher is saying. A new campaign for John Hancock Financial Services from Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos in Boston uses a similar technique, cutting through television's noisy clutter with spots that are nearly silent as they let us look in on the text of some late-night e-mail conversations.
All we hear is the click of a computer keyboard. In the spot shown here, a business-traveler husband is in a hotel room, messaging back and forth with his wife after having had to check the "65+" box while filling in his age on some online registration form. When she wonders how long their "plus" will be, he remarks that her mother made it to 95, prompting the wife to "wonder if we have enough for our plus." When, on reading this, the man slumps back in his chair and strokes his chin, viewers of a certain age will know how he feels.
By letting you look over the shoulder of someone else who's worried, instead of explicitly telling you to worry, the spot primes you to get in touch with Hancock -- and doesn't leave you feeling you've been subjected to an advertiser's scare tactics. When the words "the future is yours" appear on the screen, you may not be sure whether to take this as a promise or a threat. But that's as it should be, since the nature of your future is indeterminate, hanging partly on whether you take steps to ensure that you've got enough money for retirement. Is the spot too quiet to serve as a call to action? Maybe for some people. But there are plenty of others for whom it'll work better that a commercial that yells, especially in the context of a subject about which they can easily feel rattled.--Mark Dolliver