Monday, February 13, 2006

Live and Let

Advertising life insurance is a tricky business.

The basic idea is to appeal to the viewer’s greed. Get your ancient relatives on a guilt trip to buy our policy and you’ll be stinking rich!
So they have to make their plan seem to have a bigger payoff than the other guy’s, while skirting the issue of just how much they intend to take everybody involved for a ride.
But trickier than the above is winking at the would-be-beneficiary’s pitiless covetousness without offending that same individual. Or the will-be-corpse who has to actually sign off on the plan.
So instead of the blunted “We’ll give you big bucks if old Harry falls off a train,” they have to hand you something slightly more aesthetic.

One commercial now runs something like this:
[Housewife enters, wraps arms around smiling hubby]

Housewife: I love my darling Bernie-Boy so much. But we have to face that some day, that final toll may separate us. And when that happens, some people don’t get enough money from the big-bad men in government to deal with life alone.

[Husband and wife smile gleefully into one another’s eyes, allowing foreheads to touch]

Housewife (cont’d): That’s why we got the Dollar Demise [not actual name] insurance policy for Bernard’s seventieth birthday! And now he has the satisfaction of knowing that he will always be taking care of me.

Rumors have circulated that this same commercial was originally slated for filming with the same stage instructions, but different dialogue:
Housewife: I love my darling Bernie-Boy so much. It would be such a terrible blow when he finally croaks, but that’s all different since the nice men at Dollar Demise Insurance [still not actual name] will be sending me hundreds of thousands of dollars to comfort me!

I think you can see the difference. With only minimal alterations in writing, the company has gone from making it’s customers feel as though they are shallow moneygrubbers, to making them feel they are making their “loved” ones’ lives more carefree.

Probably the most common form of life insurance advert is this same “say one thing, hear another” ploy. For instance, when they say:
In today’s world, a funeral can cost as much as $500,000! Being prepared is the key.
the viewer is intended to assume that the figure quoted is their payout, when in fact no such promise has been made. More importantly, the viewer is intended to hear tacked on at the end a sentence not actually spoken:
But of course, you can get your old man stuffed quietly in the ground for a single percent of that, and keep the rest for yourself!

So as you can plainly see, it’s all about careful wording. Subtlety may be dead to the rest of the modern advertising world, but in the world of advertising death it is still alive, well, and appreciated.

Though there are a few rare exceptions, such as the occasional resort into blackmail toward the soon-to-be-deceased:
Bills can really pile up when you cork off. Do you REALLY want that to be your family’s last memory of you?

And that last one I didn’t even make up.

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