Commentary

John Hancock's 'Hancock Next' Is Ambitious For A Financial Services Brand

Is any marketing subspecies as helplessly behind the times as financial-services marketing? Granted, I don’t pay a lot of attention to these ads, as they’re not specifically targeted at me… yet. But as best I can tell after doing literally minutes of research, the homogeneity is staggering.

Every financial-services pitch since the dawn of humanity appears to have been delivered by an old-but-not-too-old man, one whose demeanor suggests a prudent town clerk and whose voice conveys the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps financial companies have research confirming that “venerated white guy speaking slowly, as if to a roomful of impulsive dipsh*ts” remains the most effective attitudinal shading for products of this nature, but really: It’s 2014. If a woman or a member of a racial or ethnic minority were capable of steering your portfolio in the right direction, you’d never know it from the marketing of financial products and advice. In my house and millions of others, it’s the female partner whose savvy and forbearance keeps the family from plunging into financial peril and OMG HONEY EDDIE VH GUITAR PICK ON EBAY QUICK WHATS OUR PAYPAL PASSWORD QUICK QUICK QUICK.

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That’s how I come at John Hancock’s most recent campaign, “Hancock Next,” a collection of financial scenarios with a faint make-your-own-adventure vibe. The company presents four 30-second spots that tease an imminent Financial-Moment-of-Reckoning-with-a-capital-F-M-and-R, then point users towards a site that, for each spot, offers three different resolutions. Some of those spots even feature non-men in a leading role. Hey now!

Based on that description alone, “Hancock Next” ranks as massively, daringly ambitious for a financial services brand. Still, describing this (or any other) campaign as “ambitious for a financial services brand” is like describing a whole-wheat pancake as “ambitious for breakfast.” In both instances, the comparative set ain’t daunting.

Your response to “Hancock Next,” then, will be dictated by the amount of credit you give the company for the modicum of adventurousness it flashes here. In the context of financial marketing, yeah, the dramatic tenor and multiple-ending twist feel revolutionary. But in a general context - and given that John Hancock seems hell-bent on inserting itself into my Twitter feed, the company is likely thinking bigger here - it’s just another campaign, one that overrelies on the target audience following through to the “Hancock Next” web site.

As for the scenarios, they’re given ominously vague names like “The Ride” and “The Knock.” In the set-up to the latter, a late-middle-agey white guy sags physically as he walks somberly down the hall. When he reaches a closed door, he pauses to collect himself before knocking and asking, “Can I come in?” From all this, the astute viewer gathers that he is not the bearer of happy news, or a pizza.

The three alternate scenarios that follow are pretty much what you’d expect. In one, he tells his daughter that he can’t afford the private college she’s eyeing. In the next, he and his wife discuss elder-care expenses for his father-in-law. In the third, he stands passively as his mother intones, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to take care of you” with an over-overabundance of WASP-y resolve. See, from each of these scenarios we can glean the bare outlines of a lesson, one which the good folks at John Hancock would be willing to teach.

The other clips offer more of the same. In “The Call,” mom (protagonist gender diversity ahoy!) picks up a buzzing phone to learn, in order, that somebody who “wasn’t even 50” has met with physical misfortune; that somebody is offering her either a job or a second interview for a job she doesn’t appear to want; and that somebody or other is pregnant with twins. “The Meeting,” on the other hand, explores a host of workplace scenarios: Middle-aged white guy (boooo!) gets promoted, quits to open his own business and is pressed into early retirement.

There’s not a lot to like or dislike here, to be honest. The videos are produced professionally enough; the meeting room resembles an actual real-world meeting room. The acting is acceptable if a bit wooden, though I’d like to know how many of the roughly 2,675 dramatic pauses and tremulous sighs were written into the script and how many were improvised. Critiquing “Hancock Next” is like critiquing a typical patch of suburban grass, really. What’s the point? (Wait - I’d like to get paid for this. The point is that brand videos from financial-services companies need to be bolder and more inclusive, or something).

Really, my biggest issue here is with John Hancock’s new tag line, which flashes at the end of each video: “When life comes, be prepared for it.” Does the company mean “when life comes knocking”? “When life delivers the dealer a queen while you’re sitting on 19”? I spent a solid 12 minutes trying to parse this incomplete turn of phrase. I suspect that wasn’t what John Hancock wanted to be anyone’s primary takeaway from the campaign. Oh well.

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