I’ve written about marketing in the world of investment and wealth management before. It is a wonderful thing to see an industry that previously would not "stoop to conquer" now actually addressing the consumer in a language he can understand.
The industry is new to the game, so the results are uneven. American Century Investments was, I think, wrong to use Lance Armstrong as a celebrity spokesperson. The Citi ad that spoke of the "heart of new york" was not so much wrong as muddled. On the other hand, recent Charles Schwab work has been exemplary. I particularly like the ad that reads, "owning a house worth a million bucks is not a retirement plan."
It is a pleasure to report that the SmithBarney campaign is a superb piece of consumer centricity. It addresses the barrier in place: the fact that most consumers fail to fail to how money makes money. Now, I know this complete confounds the financial industry. "What’s not to get?" they want to know. But that is the point of consumer-centricity. It doesn’t matter what we think. It matters what the consumer thinks, and the further they are from our standard, the harder we have to work, the more due ethnographic diligence we must exercise.
Consumers believe that money comes from a pay check. They work hard. Someone pays them. Now they have money. Yes, they grasp the idea of "interest." Yes, they understand, roughly, how the stock market works. But the idea that this industry is all about and only about, money, this is as counter intuitive as a "virgin birth." Money has to come from somewhere. How can it come, as if immaculate conceived, from other money.
For the average consumer there is something impenetrable about financial planning. It’s a mystery of the old fashioned kind, not something you can clear up with a flashlight and a basset hound. No, this is one of those imponderables of the human condition, one of those things we will just never understand.
And what a barrier this becomes for the financial industry when it finally decides to market to these consumers. How does the consumer calculate risk in a decision making situation such as this? Well, he just doesn’t, that’s all. He practices avoidance. This feels like the rational thing to do. Marketing comes late to the game, and it must move mountains.
Oh, there is one thing that the consumer understands perfectly well: the moment he sits down with a financial adviser, he’s going to look like a rube and a dope. Here’s another reason to practice avoidance.
What to do? How to speak to a consumer in this frame of mind? The Working Wealth is a great place to start. If the Charles Schwab campaign demonstrated a knowledge of what the consumer thinks, this one shows us how the consumer thinks.
The notion of "working wealth" complete with gears has an appealing literalism. The first few lines of the body copy:
"Earn your first dollar by your labors. Get up early, work late. Get up the next day and do it again. Keep doing it, even after the dollars start adding up."
Exactly on target. Start with the what the consumer is thinking.
The campaign then proposes an equation, that at Smith Barney, capital works the way you do. Hence the headline: "I am working wealth." This is classic metaphor. It allows the consumer to understand the unknown part of the metaphor equation (capital) with what they know about the known part of the equation (their working lives.)
Then Smith Barney invites the consumer think of himself as someone who has control of this process. ("I am working wealth.") Some part of their work-a-day world is a place of special control and competence for them. Now the equation says, hey, what you know about your domain of competence, apply that to the way Smith Barney will allow you to manage your wealth.
In the symbolic logic of this ad, we step the consumer from where he is (capital comes from a paycheck) into a moment of identification (capital works the way the consumer works) into a proposition and a promise of control (I am working wealth.) From the old world of capital to the new world of capital with a couple of phrases and around 100 words. This is exemplary meaning management.
The agency responsible for this exemplary work is Hill Holliday New York. The planner was Lesley Bielby (now of Hill Holliday Boston). The Executive Creative Director was Alon Shoval, who, with Charles Veprek, served as copywriter and, with Victor Anselmi, as Art Director.
Anon. 2006. I am working wealth. Full page ad for Smith Barney. Wall Street Journal. October 31, 2006, p. A7.
For the Smith Barney "I am working wealth" website, here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Marketing the Capital Markets. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. February 10, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Marketing the Capital Markets II. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. February 14, 2006. here.
McCracken, Grant. 2006. Marketing Financial markets: Schwab Triumph. The Blog sits at the intersection of Anthropology and Economics. March 1, 2006. here.
Pip Coburn, Coburn Ventures
Nick Hahn, Vivaldi Partners
Olivier Blanchard, Corante