Insurer Celebrates Well-Lived Lives

Vibrant Centenarians Star In Genworth Campaign; Will Boomers Be Turned Off?

By Kelly Greene

Many marketers have avoided using the elderly in commercials targeting baby boomers, worried that reminders of aging would turn them off. But insurer Genworth Financial is featuring six centenarians—wrinkles and all—in a series of television and print ads starting this week.

WPP Group's Impact advertising agency in New York came up with the idea of using vignettes of vibrant people in the 100-plus set to raise the profile of its insurance products, all of which are tied to security in later life. The list includes life insurance, long-term care insurance, annuities and mortgage insurance.

After Genworth, Richmond, Va., was spun off by General Electric two years ago, it mounted an ad campaign featuring tennis stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf to increase overall awareness of its new brand. The primary targets of the new effort, on which the company plans to spend $35 million this year, are the thousands of brokers, bankers and insurance agents who sell its policies. Typically, these salespeople are men ages 35 to 64, with annual household income of at least $80,000.

If the ads attract attention from consumers, too, so much the better, says Buzz Richmond, Genworth's senior vice president and brand leader. "We thought this concept of centenarians would be a fascinating story of no matter how long you live, it's important to plan for the future," he says.

The people featured in the ads aren't your stereotypically frail elders. The first commercial, running on cable networks including ESPN, CNN, Fox News and Discovery, shows 100-year-old Leonard "Rosie" Ross playing the trumpet—he still has a regular Friday gig—and driving his own car.

Among the other centenarians, one became a published author in her 90s, another celebrated his 100th birthday by waterskiing, and a third is the country's oldest licensed airplane pilot.

Edward Rondthaler, who appears in the print ads, scheduled to start July 10 in national newspapers and business magazines, shoveled snow from his sidewalk last winter before a visit by an Impact creative director to his Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., home. Reached by telephone on his 101st birthday Friday, Mr. Rondthaler said he is "too involved" in his community, including writing a column for a local weekly newspaper, to consider moving closer to his sons in Utah or California.

Mr. Richmond says he worried that the campaign could misfire with baby boomers "in total denial about aging" and with younger people who "don't want to look at old people, period." But when Genworth employees, brokers and agents saw a mockup of the ads, he adds, "the response basically was, `I want to be that person. I want to be 100, and I want to be as healthy as that person when I get to be 100.'"

Ken Dychtwald, a San Francisco gerontologist who consults for companies marketing to older consumers, says the campaign is "an interesting and appropriate play for a financial-services company." But audience reaction could go one of two ways, he adds. On the one hand, "a 40- or 50-year-old may say, `That's not for me because I don't want to be thought of that way.' " On the other hand, as boomers "come to grips with their own maturity, seeing ads with 25-year-olds makes you feel older. If you look at ads with 100-year-olds and they look quite vibrant, it could make you feel younger in comparison."

To find the six people finally chosen for the Genworth campaign, Impact combed the Internet and worked with groups that study centenarians to assemble a pool of about 80 people. It then whittled the group down to eight finalists for four TV spots. Rather than flying them to New York for a casting call, "we had [staff] on the road for weeks speaking to these people," Mr. Richmond says.

"Their frame of reference was so different from ours," says Rachel Howald, an Impact creative director. "They all remembered seeing a car for the first time, and getting electricity in their homes."

Original article:
Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2006