Pitching Baby Boomers to Plan Their Sendoffs

DALLAS As the baby-boom generation grows older and begins to plan their parents’ funerals, the funeral industry is starting two marketing campaigns that aim to get boomers to pre-plan their own sendoffs as well.

While print and outdoor have been the traditional media for funeral-home work, Peter A. Mayer Advertising launches a TV effort Nov. 10 for the central region division of Stewart Enterprises, which operates 450 funeral homes in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Separately, the National Funeral Directors Association has distributed four print ads by Chicago-based Contact Points to its members—the NFDA’s first such effort. Those ads, which are now available for its 12,000 member homes to run in their local newspapers, also promote funerals tailored to the individual.

Mayer’s work for Metairie, La.-based Stewart, which last year handled 130,000 funerals, takes an upbeat tone in an effort to move away from “the typical Hallmark-card, sympathetic” advertising for funeral homes, said Josh Mayer, creative director at the New Orleans agency.

One spot opens with grainy footage of a man happily walking backward. A voiceover explains that the fellow held the world record for the activity. The spot then cuts to his funeral, where pall bearers are walking backward with his coffin.

A voiceover says, “Every life is unique. Every funeral should be, too. We’ll help you create a funeral that is meaningful to you.” The spot ends with the names of local Stewart homes and the line, “We celebrate life.”

Another spot follows the same formula but focuses on a woman who had a love for animals.

Stewart —whose 3 percent market share trails leader Service Corp. International (12 percent) and Alderwoods Group (6 percent), according to William Burns, an analyst at Johnson Rice & Co. in New Orleans—is launching the spots in six markets in the South and Midwest. Print launched in July for the Central and Eastern divisions of Stewart.

One of the NFDA ads features a picture of a man and a smaller photograph, in a frame, of his mom with a hula hoop. Copy reads, “Whether it was her tie-dyed shirts or her scuba-diving lessons, Mom was always young at heart. So when she died, we wanted to make our goodbye as full of life as she was.”

Both efforts target the 70 million Americans ages 39-57. “Most of them are on the verge of burying their parents, and they’re seeing how many decisions have to be made,” Burns said. “I see them saying, ‘I don’t want to lay these burdens of decisions on my children. I’m going to make these upfront.’ Boomers love to pre-plan.”

Burns said TV advertising is rare for funeral homes, which generally market themselves via print ads and billboards near their locations.

Spending on Stewart’s campaign was not disclosed. Stewart has spent less than $1 million on advertising in both 2003 and 2002, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Stewart—which reported net earnings of $17 million for the first three quarters of this year, compared with $23 million for the same period last year—is one of four publicly traded funeral home corporations. Those companies account for 11 percent of the more than 20,000 funeral homes in the U.S.