Prudential's "Day One Stories" Arrive Days Too Late

by , Jan 19, 2012, 3:19 PM
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I can't wait to retire. I'll spend my mornings napping, afternoons in a state of siesta and nights profoundly, supremely inert. If I happen to rouse, it'll be due to a fire alarm or the arrival of a pizza.

Alas, my retirement is far enough away that it seems more an impossible dream of magnificent sloth than something that should blip on the planning radar. Thus Prudential's "Day One Stories" compilation of retirement videos and resources isn't for me, nor for anyone who, in his later years, similarly dreads the prospect of tucking in his shirt or - disdainful snicker- contributing to society in a meaningful way. No, it's for responsible eventual retirees who want to, like, do stuff. And if media images of swinging retirees throwing down B-52 shooters as they're hustled from club to limo to private jet have taught us nothing else, it's that doing stuff is expensive.

I assume that's the campaign's core takeaway. Unfortunately, due to its emphasis on what's-next platitudes and gauzy visuals designed to evoke a mood rather than convey actionable information, it's hard to tell for sure. You've gotta hand it to Prudential's marketers: They've managed to render the notion of retirement even more vague and shapeless than it already is.

The campaign concept is proudly big-picture and Prudential scores from a graphic perspective, centering it around one of those Flash-shifty photo mosaics. Each of the photos, taken of retirees on their first day after graduating from Proletariat U., leads the viewer to a testimonial, statistic or video. To hear Prudential tell it: "These photos and the accompanying documentaries capture a moment of transition in a life… As you look through the pictures, read the quotes and watch the films, it's clear that these issues are on the minds of these people. And yet, the more you look, the more you see the optimism. The smiles. The hands raised triumphantly."

I call B.S. First of all, I don't believe that a single retiree wouldn't spend his first day of vocational freedom in sweatpants - that a single retiree wouldn't eschew pants altogether, for that matter. But mostly, I don't buy the way Prudential attempts to force-feed viewers the unblinking optimism of its chosen subjects.

Unless I've misinterpreted 74,000 stories about the economic plight of boomers nearing retirement age, it appears that retirees are getting squeezed financially as they never have before. That means that with "Day One," Prudential is either cheerleading or distorting. Scaremongering is a reprehensible technique, but it'd be more appropriate in this instance than LA LA LA I CAN TOTALLY AFFORD TO SUSTAIN MY CURRENT LIFESTYLE IF I LIVE TO 95 LA LA LA.

So all these folks are optimistic on Day One? How about we get a camera on them the first time they hit the quadruple-deductible at the doctor's office? It doesn't help that Prudential appears to have gone editor- free for this project, as witnessed by the cloddy grammar and syntax ("if you retire at 65, the average American will see 6,000 more sunrises in their lives," "what's my perfect Day One of retirement look like?"), nor that the available-for-download talking guides clumsily attempt to inject humor ("what are you going to do with your free time, besides calling me?").

And that's before viewers land upon the "Day One" videos, which are ostensibly the point of this column. Clocking in at three or four minutes in length, the videos visit with five freshly minted, ethnosocioracially diverse retirees who, in an amazing burst of good fortune for Prudential, speak in touchy-feely sound bites. Gary acknowledges that retirement is "a big shift, but you know when it's time to get out," while Linda admits to feeling "like I'm walking around in one big hug."

The testimonials are honestly felt; these are decent people and I find myself genuinely happy that they've arrived at a positive place. But so what? What individuals nearing retirement need is a roadmap to get to that place, not a bunch of we're-already-there sketches of post-retirement comfort and mirth. It doesn't help that those sketches mostly skimp on the personal detail that could better illuminate the challenges at hand.

Or maybe that's a good thing. In expressing concern about taking care of his family, Hermann notes, "I have a son who's developmentally delayed, I have a son who's gay, I have a daughter who's a free spirit…" While I'm not an officer in the PC gestapo, I imagine more than a few viewers will chafe at the suggestion that a gay child is as much of a burden as one with developmental issues, or a burden in any sense of the word. Whether or not this is a generational thing - the retirement generation not being as comfortable with such issues as the one behind it, etc. - the sentiment has no place here.

It's a big old mess. For individuals on the cusp of retirement, the "Day One Stories" message arrives too late. For younger individuals, the ones who could benefit most from a plan-or-perish slap upside the head, watching sage retirees wax philosophical about "the first sunrise of the next phase of your life" packs little motivational punch. So while Prudential earns props for avoiding the usual approach – you know, silver foxes with knotted brows expressing concern about retirement by saying things like "I am concerned about retirement" - the execution eliminates any potential goodwill, and then some.

3 comments on "Prudential's "Day One Stories" Arrive Days Too Late".

  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: January 19, 2012 at 4:34 p.m.
    Assisted Living: $4500 per month Nursing Home: $9000 per month (Caretakers of above: $10 per hour) Not just for up and coming retirees, but their parents. How much does one have to save (invest) for how many years to provide for the next 5 years after 65 ? 10 years ?
  2. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions
    commented on: January 19, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.
    It's great to see this column. This is one of those times we need to point out what is wrong with a campaign and it is well documented. Actually, the Pru might be better off to show the financial challenges faced by current retirees as a means to shock younger people into taking it seriously about saving for retirement.
  3. Dan Lamont from DLP, Inc dba Dan Lamont Multimedia
    commented on: January 19, 2012 at 11:35 p.m.
    I am usually to busy to comment on these forums but this post deserved a response. All I can say is whaa, whaa whaa Larry! I am sorry you are unprepared and scared (frankly I'm 56 and in the same boat) but you confuse your own self pity with an honest critique of the work. Let's be communications professionals here and leave the psychoanalysis to the pros in that field. I like the Prudential "Day One" site mostly because it is full of good story telling, not the usual glossy crap. I do not think anybody who cooked this up figured it would be a recipe for planning your retirement (there are other tools for that), but I found the stories refreshingly honest and unpretentious (if sometimes also impolitic). Of course there are harder stories to tell in these challenged times but at least this makes an attempt at authenticity. We need more ways like this to connect with people and find common humanity.

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