Annuity sellers who want to get past consumer skepticism have to be careful to acknowledge the limits of their knowledge, a polling firm says.

Maslansky Luntz + Partners, Alexandria, Va., has presented that conclusion on an analysis of results from a focus group session with 24 retirees and pre-retirees conducted in Chicago Retirementduring the annual meeting of the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI), Washington.

Maslansky Luntz is a nonpartisan offshoot of a firm founded by Frank Luntz, the pollster who helped Republicans take control of the House in 1994.

All of the IRI meeting focus group participants were ages 50 to 74 and had $250,000 to $2 million in investable assets excluding the value of their homes.

The pollsters included a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

The session confirmed the principle that consumers tend to dislike “annuities” but like what annuities offer to do for investors.

“People like hearing about the benefits of annuities,” the firm says. “They turn negative when they hear the word itself. They have heard horror stories of high fees and downsides. We realize, of course, that the word must be used, but this obstacle must be overcome before investors will consider buying.”

Annuity sellers should focus on the products before mentioning the products, the firm says.

But the focus group participants talked about continuing to feel uncertain about the direction of the markets and the effects of what Washington might do, or not do, the firm says.

In part because of that high level of uncertain, “extreme approaches fail,” the firm says. “Every time. Too optimistic–not credible. Too pessimistic–not credible. Too absolute–not credible.”

The focus group participants find shades of gray to be much more credible than messages that express certainty, the firm says.