In 1990, there were 63.5 million people over the age of 50 in the United States. By 2000, with baby boomers joining the fray, that figure is expected to hi" data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" data-auth = "" >

50-plus: a lighter touch for the gray market By Ann Coope

In 1990, there were 63.5 million people over the age of 50 in the United States. By 2000, with baby boomers joining the fray, that figure is expected to hi

If you happen to live in the Boston area, it’s hard to avoid the work of Todd Riddle and Mark Nardi these days. Over the past year and a half, this Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos team’s award-winning ads for the Boston Ballet, Massachusetts State Lottery, Polaroid, Raynham/Taunton Dog Park and the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts have graced TV screens, newspapers, magazine spreads and radio stations across the region.
But it’s their work in a category not exactly known for its groundbreaking creativity–the 50-plus crowd–and for an institution not exactly known for its forward thinking–the Bank of Boston–that has been Riddle and Nardi’s biggest success.
The 200-year-old bank came to Hill, Holliday a year ago with the aim of shaking off its reputation as a conservative, stodgy institution catering to millionaires. It also wanted to promote numerous retail services, including Portfolio 50, a package of financial services aimed at those 50 and older.
“Other banks tend to speak to everyone,” explains Nardi. “But Bank of Boston wanted to get over that it’s a one-to-one relationship. They wanted to be seen as approachable and friendly.”
Enter copywriter Nardi and art director Riddle, two wisecracking 30-year-olds who are about as approachable and friendly as you can get. Why Nardi and Riddle? “We were available,” says Nardi. “Our age was not even a factor.”
“We feel like we’re 50 anyway,” quips Riddle.
“It’s like advertising to any category,” says Nardi. “You listen to all the research and you basically transform yourself into the target market. Sometimes it was more obvious what we shouldn’t do rather than what we should do. Most advertising to the over-50s is very condescending.”
Research revealed that the members of the 50-plus set are independent, in control of their lives, have discretionary incomes, appreciate a bargain and are not as uptight about life as younger age groups. But the key to the whole campaign proved to be the fact that over-50s consider themselves 15 years younger than society perceives them to be.
“Showing older people had been overdone,” says Riddle. “We wanted to concentrate on the lower end. We didn’t want to do the Nike thing, you know, ‘Here’s Jake Smith, 92, who cycles every day . . . ‘ We didn’t want to do Sedelmaier. We didn’t want to do, ‘Hey guys, you’re 50! Come and see us!’ We had to strike a tone. We wanted something elegant, tasteful and light, done with a wink and a smile.”
Nardi and Riddle came up with an elegantly tasteful print campaign headlined “To sign up for this account you must undergo a long, complicated and often confusing process. Life.” Accompanying art shows a woman in different stages of her life, with body copy that begins “You’ve been through bell bottoms. Moon landings. Pet rocks. Wars. Peace. Diapers. Disco. Mortgages. Reunions. And your surprise 50th birthday party. Which all means you’re an official, experienced member of something called life.”
TV spots supplied the campaign’s wink and the smile. One 30-second ad opens on a shot of sky and treetops, then pans down to a grandfather hanging upside down off a branch, swinging his grandson. “A word of advice. Act your shoe size, not your age,” says the voiceover by actor Ed Asner. Another spot shows a batch of mature bikers overtaking a younger cyclist. “They say youth is wasted on the young,” says the voiceover. Yet another, “Birthday,” shows a group of 50-somethings blowing out candles on a birthday cake with balloons. Directed by Jeff Gorman of Johns + Gorman Film, the campaign broke in March and reached its three-month sales target after only 29 days. It also won a New England Broadcasting Association Award.
Riddle and Nardi first became aware of each other when they attended the same school, Needham High, outside Boston, but they didn’t meet. (“It was a big class,” explains Nardi.) While Riddle studied advertising at Syracuse and joined HHCC in 1986, Nardi studied music and business at Lowell, working first for a Cambridge agency and joining HHCC in 1990. They hit it off from the beginning. Their first collaboration, a trade campaign for Polaroid, was a finalist in the One Show, won a first place award in the London International Advertising Festival and a Gold at the New England Hatch Awards. It seemed a propitious start. Their next campaign, a series of low-budget spots for the Boston Ballet, earned them entry in the Communications Arts annual, gained an entry in the British D&AD annual, another Gold at Hatch and an Andy.
“These two are the new Easdon and Heater,” says Jay Hill, HHCC’s ever-ebullient chairman, referring to Don Easdon and Bill Heater, the former Hill, Holliday superstars who crafted the now famous “Rocks and Trees” campaign for Infiniti.
“They’re helping us replicate the culture,” adds creative director Fred Bartino, the man charged with restoring the lustre to the once-hot Beantown shop, which lost $120 million worth of business in 1992. “I think we’re getting there,” says the quietly spoken and quietly optimistic Bartino. “We’ve got new campaigns coming out for every client in September.”
In between their current efforts on the Audi pitch (Hill, Holliday is a finalist, along with Carmichael Lynch and McKinney & Silver), Nardi and Riddle are working on a new campaign for The Bank of Boston’s other financial package, the Max. “We’re at the age when we just want to produce work,” says Riddle simply. And apart from producing, what do Nardi and Riddle want to be doing when they’re 50? “When we’re 50,” says Nardi, “we want to be doing ads for 30-year-olds.”
“No one wants to talk about insurance,” says Rich Silverstein, creative director of Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein. “But insurance is becoming a hot topic.”
Silverstein ought to know. As co-chairman of the agency that handles Unum Corporation, a company that specializes in disability and long-term care insurance, the topic has been much on his mind of late.
“People misunderstand insurance,” says the 44-year-old Silverstein. “Even the brokers and people in the industry.” With this in mind, GBS set out to create a campaign that not only gives guidance to industry insiders, but also provides Unum, a 145-year-old company based in Portland, Maine, with a new logo and a new image. “We did a campaign that calls a spade a spade and has a sense of humor,” says Silverstein, “which is nice for an insurance agency to have. We tried to be fresh, innovative and different and sow the seeds for change.”
While still hardly the sort of subject that scintillates at dinner parties, GBS’ new print campaign, which broke in June, treats the subject with humor and directness and stands out in a category traditionally filled with gray “insurance-speak.”
“In 50 years it’s quite possible this scenario will be reserved,” states the headline next to a photo of a father holding his newborn. Body copy reads: “Something wonderful is happening. We’re all getting older. And living longer. Consider that for the first time ever, the fastest-growing segment of the population is over 90 years old.”
Another ad shows a bear in midstream, snapping at a salmon. The headline states, “You probably feel like the bear. We’d like to suggest you’re the salmon. (Now, let’s talk disability insurance.)” Accompanying copy says, “It happens like this. You’re young. You’re healthy. You’re swimming along when, POW!”
Says associate creative director David O’Hare, “The aim with this campaign was to take the positive side and stay off the gloom and doom side. Living longer and getting older is a good thing and we’re all living healthier lives and we all want to be around longer. It’s a new way of looking at growing older. We’re all going to be over 50, and this campaign is for anyone who’s planning to live a long time. One of the complaints from people was that insurance companies treat them like numbers on a chart, which tends to alienate people.”
Silverstein, whose agency beat out a mere 136 other shops (including Fallon McElligott and Lord, Dentsu) to win the account, happily admits to being a novice in the field. “Although we’ve never worked for an insurance company,” he says, “we’d never worked for a kids account either, before Sega. What counts is the ability to get into the heads of these people. Unum’s a very innovative company. They’re not into every kind of insurance. They’re only into niche marketing and they’re very progressive and open to new ideas.”
Some of GBS’ new ideas included a redesign of the company’s trademark lighthouse logo, a new tagline (“We see farther”), a new corporate program and accompanying collateral and brochures. While GBS Design handled the design side, the agency fielded its usual battery of creatives, including co-chairman Jeffrey Goodby, associate creative director O’Hare, art directors Steve Simpson and David Pullum, and copywriter Harry Cocciolo.
“We very rarely get the chance to do a total look,” says Silverstein. “But Unum decided suddenly to put their face out to the world. They wanted to stand out as the leader in disability insurance and they needed to compete with the big players like Aetna, Cigna and Paul Revere. Before, they were very well respected and had a good reputation. They would never let you down, and if you worked with them you liked them, but they were invisible.”
Says Tracy Sherman, manager/marketing and public relations at Unum, “The industry’s going through a lot of changes at the moment. New people are getting in, others are getting out and we needed to be more visible. We wanted to talk to people not as a typical insurance ad but as a real person.”
Reality, with its gravitational pull toward the truth, proved a salutary exercise for Silverstein. “Baby boomers and their parents are becoming the critical group in this category,” he says. “And when we talked to focus groups and brokers we realized that in a way we’re talking to ourselves. We’re thinking of our family as well as looking ahead at taking care of ourselves.”
Adds O’Hare, “One thing’s certain, we’re all living longer and getting older, and the hard graphs and statistics about aging that companies have traditionally used no longer apply. We’re trying to break down the age barriers. We’re all just human beings, whether we’re 25 or 75.”
Another West Coast shop which thinks getting older is a hot topic is Los Angeles-based Stein Robaire Helm, an agency known more for its flip irreverency than its marketing gravitas or its below-the-line expertise. But that was before it landed a project from Los Angeles-based Secure Horizons.
Secure Horizons is the nation’s second-largest senior health care plan and offers a health maintenance program that augments existing Medicare benefits. The agency acquired the project just 11 weeks ago, mainly because of personal connections (a Secure Horizons advertising executive had once worked with Stein Robaire president Greg Helm), and the acres of positive press it has been generating recently about its award-winning commercials (for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Ikea and the Southern California Acura Dealers Association).
“We were looking for something fresh,” says Marianne Propst, director/marketing communications at Secure Horizons. “There’s not a lot of agencies out there who do this kind of thing and the market is getting more crowded. Most of our competitors were not in the business three years ago. They’re just starting to advertise to seniors now.”
The Stein Robaire Helm approach turned out to be the fresh angle Secure Horizons wanted. “We were hired to develop a brand personality,” says president Helm. “Secure Horizons was looking for advertising that was more specific, that would generate leads and interest in the plan. We’d done some direct mail, but this is much more than we’ve ever done before.”
The agency developed a newspaper campaign aimed at increasing awareness and getting seniors to attend Horizon’s preliminary HMO meetings. This is to be followed by an integrated marketing scheme that will include collateral, direct mail and below-the-line services.
Says creative director John Stein, “There are certain do’s and don’ts about advertising to the over-50s. No quick cuts, no MTV graphics, and you have to think about something as simple as putting text or logos up on screen for a moment longer than usual. It’s really a case of putting yourself in the audience’s shoes. And most of us can relate to that audience in terms of our own relatives. Finding out about this market was eye-opening. There were some real poignant moments. At times, when I was talking to my mother and father, it became very personal and very autobiographical.”
Adds Helm, “The senior market is much more vibrant than you might think, and most insurance companies talk down to older consumers. We saw this as an opportunity to become industry experts. With everything Hillary Clinton is doing, health care is very much in the news right now. And it’s going to be key in the coming years.”
That Secure Horizons, a California-based agency is another plus in Helm’s opinion. “People are more into health and vigor here than elsewhere in the country,” he says. “I think the trends and attitudes toward life and aging are very different in Southern California than anywhere else. All the seniors we’ve talked to have more important things to worry about than health care.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)