Before there were Life Insurance Awareness Month, Disability Insurance Awareness Month and the 3 in 4 Need More campaign, New Orleans “social aid and pleasure” societies — fraternal insurers — used Mardi Gras parades as a chance to promote their organizations and bind members closer together.

The benevolent associations themselves would, in effect, carry out teaser campaigns throughout the year by hiring bands to play sad music on the way to a member’s burial and lively music as the mourners left the cemetery.

Long-term care insurance (LTCI) insurers and producers are not likely to hire bands to play on the way as policyholders’ move in and out of assisted living facilities, but the New Orleans Mardi Gras is an interesting insurance marketing case study.

Some thoughts.

1. Some campaigns can get to be a little too successful to serve as effective marketing vehicles for the original organizers.

Mardi Gras eventually grew to be so big that its ties to social aid societies receded into hazy memory. Ronald McDonald seems to have mostly transcended hamburgers. 

LTCI campaign organizers who want the campaign to lead to awareness and sales might not want to end up with campaigns that go quite that viral.

2. People like music.

Trumpets, trombones and tubes helped the social aid societies get their message across. 

Many baby boomers and members of Generation X can still sing old McDonald’s and Coca Cola theme sungs, and warble the “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” slogan.

I’m having a hard time thinking of any Blue Cross and Blue Shield theme songs, let alone songs from other life, health and LTCI carriers.

If the LTCI community can’t develop, or commission the development of, its own theme song, maybe it could talk to Fleetwood Mac about the rights to “Don’t Stop.”

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Bill Clinton linked the song to associations that might be painful for some, but it’s certainly true that yesterday is gone, and that tomorrow will soon be here. Those are thoughts that it would be good for LTCI prospects to be humming on the way to work.

Another option could be to listen carefully to New Orleans jazz. Maybe Louis Armstrong’s “As Time Goes By” would help get prospects, future prospects, in the kind of reflective mood that gets people to think about the possibility that someday they might well be older and more frail than they are today.

My own grandmother, Dorothy White Bell of Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb. (her sister and brother-in-law used to play bridge with Warren Buffett) regularly sang “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“I don’t remember growing older; when did they?” is a lyric that might go well with the sale of a number of the products marketed by Berkshire Hathaway portfolio insurance companies.

3. What we learn first, we remember best.

People love Mardi Gras partly because it’s old. It was there when we were small children and seems as if it will be there until our children have small grandchildren.

If it’s lasted all this time, there must be something to it.

One of the things that the life insurers National Underwriter Life & Health was covering back in 1897 have going for them is that they existed in 1897, and that they existed in 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, 1950 and whenever else it is that today’s LTCI prospects started paying attention to the financial news and financial services ads.

Many of the companies that National Underwriter and the other publications that produce LifeHealthPro.com cover emphasize in their modern ads how old they are.

The companies in the market today either have the advantage of hoary old age or they don’t. Relatively new companies can’t help being relatively new.

But one thing companies of any age can do is prepare for the future (that day that will soon be here) by making sure they get the attention of the consumers who are young today.

Children will be the prime prospects sooner than we think, and they’re great marketing assistants today.

My 9-year-old daughter watches property-casualty auto and homeowners’ insurance commercials, which are aimed mainly at children’s parents, and asks me what kind of insurance we have.

She got to sleep “in the big bed” a few days ago because she had a cold. She woke her father me and up to ask us, “Do you have a will?”

In this case, she wasn’t responding to anything a life insurance company or a financial planning group had done, but to a Nancy Drew mystery movie. 

Maybe the NAIFA should send Nancy Drew a thank you note.

I don’t think there’s any more persuasive sales representative on earth than a small child who is asking Mommy and Daddy whether they have protected themselves, and the child, against financial catastrophe.

4. Longevity eventually pays off.

Mardi Gras may have its ups and downs, but the forces of age, history and nostalgia will always bring it back into style, as long as it keeps going and the people who run it and market it keep going.

No company enters the LTCI market with the thought of jumping in and out of it, but I think companies that have a choice and have some way to stay in might think about all the times when New Orleans could have given up on Mardi Gras. New Orleans has stuck with Mardi Gras, in bad times as well as good, and the result is that Mardi Gras keeps paying public relations dividends.

The social aid societies are now out of the insurance business. They’re social groups, not mutual insurers. But Mardi Gras helps promote them and keep them in existence long after they have evolved into something other than what they were created to be.