Sometimes, you make a good investment without knowing it. For a struggling songwriter named Lou Bega, it happened in 1998 when he borrowed a few riffs from a long-forgotten tune by Cuban bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado, reworked the beat, then added some catchy lyrics. The result, as anyone who was around back then will no doubt remember, was “Mambo No. 5,” a monster hit in 1999 that eventually reached the top 10 in 26 countries, including the U.S., and notched gold, platinum or multiplatinum status in all of them.
But for Bega, “Mambo No. 5” was more than a sudden catapult to fame—it was payday. At the tender age of 24, Bega started getting royalty checks. In fact today, some 18 years after the song got stuck in the heads of millions of people, he’s still getting them.
Which isn’t just a good thing for Bega—it’s pretty handy for the New York Life Insurance Company, too.
In an ad breaking today, Bega plays himself—white linen slacks, Panama hat—and uses the example of his chart-topping tune to explain New York Life’s income annuities.
The textbook definition of an annuity is an insurance product that following a lump-sum deposit pays regular monthly disbursements back to the investor for the rest of his life. But, well, how boring is that? Fortunately, Bega brings it all down to earth—to a white-sand beach in Miami, actually.
“Retirement can be scary,” Bega says in the spot, sipping an umbrella-topped cocktail out of a pineapple. “Know what makes it less scary? Gettin’ checks on a regular basis.”
The video is the latest installment of New York Life’s “Be Good at Life” campaign, which has cast celebrities—thus far basketball Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry and renowned chef Dominique Crenn—using their trademark skills to explain the complexities of various financial products. Barry talks about how his funny-looking “granny shot” landed the ball in the hoop consistently just like a New York Life policyholder gets consistent dividends. Crenn bakes a soufflé that keeps growing, just like the cash value of a New York Life whole-life policy.
When it came to explaining annuities, New York Life decided it needed a successful musician. “We were thinking about the consistency of paying the checks month after month, and this was similar in our minds to royalty checks,” explained New York Life’s head of marketing Kari Axberg. “Musicians receive [them] over the years, and consumers could understand that.”
Bega, she added, was the company’s first choice.
For the sake of those too young to remember him, Bega is captioned as “The ‘Mambo No. 5’ Guy” in the ad. But remembering the song is essential when it comes to the punch line. While a cabana boy hands him a series of bank envelopes, Bega bellyaches, “I can’t go anywhere without getting one, two, three-four-five checks!”
On a call from his home in Germany, Bega explained that it was the writing that cinched the endorsement deal for him. “I was approached by New York Life, [which] sent over the script—and I’ve read a lot of scripts—but that script was so funny and on-point,” he said.
What’s more, he said, “[with] where I am in my life, [the script] felt like a suit that would fit.”
Nearly two decades removed from the music video in which he’s a young playboy doing the mambo with curvaceous, scantily clad women—specifically: Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, Jessica, Angela and Pamela—Bega is now a 42-year-old man with all the family responsibilities and career burdens of middle age.
Financially, he said, “I take care of many people.” And while he still keeps up with a rigorous touring schedule, he said, “I don’t know how long my body will hold up for 60 gigs a year and traveling and jet lag and all of that. Getting an annuity check provides the peace of mind—so I do recognize the value of it.”
In other words, Bega’s not just the celebrity pitchman, he’s a customer.
And that, too, figured big in the strategy of the spot, according to Karina Wilsher, global chief operating officer at Anomaly New York, the shop that produced the “Be Good at Life” work, including the latest video. Not only is Bega the right age to be talking about the merits of retirement planning, his sense of humor, evident financial success and colorful personality all combine to breathe new life into the tired formula of financial-services advertising. If the message is “be good at life,” Wilsher said, “you want your protagonist to exude what being good at life means. It’s having things in perspective and being able to focus on the important things. [There’s] a positivity and optimism he has, naturally.”
Just for the record, “Mambo No. 5” wasn’t Bega’s only hit—he had eight other songs on the charts around the world—though it was perhaps an unlikely one. While many fans in the late ’90s assumed Bega was a young Latino hunk, he’s in fact the German-born son of an Italian mother and Ugandan father, real name: David Lubega. It took a visit to Miami in his teens to turn Bega on to mambo, a genre that’s been very good to him.
And so has that hit song. “Mambo No. 5” might not send Bega five checks at a time like the commercial suggests, but it sends them often enough.
“So, it’s a musical annuity in some way,” Bega said.