I encountered so many life insurance salesmen last weekend, I might have to charge my company overtime.
First, I watched “Doc Hollywood” on Saturday. (Netflix Instant has a large catalog of ‘80s and early ‘90s films. I had a free evening and a need to see some pleated jeans. Don’t judge.) Woody Harrelson shows up in the movie, as Hank Gordon, a bumpkin life insurance salesman who — unsurprisingly — immediately tries to sell Michael J. Fox’s character a policy. He’s even wearing a nametag, despite living in a town of approximately 20 people.
Then, on “Mad Men” Sunday night, ad man Pete Campbell had to sit through a sales pitch from oily Howard, a life insurance salesman who rides the train into work with him — and regales Pete with stories of all the women, other than his wife, with whom he’s currently sleeping. To Howard’s credit, Pete ultimately bought life insurance from him — but only after sleeping with Howard’s wife.
Neither Hank nor Howard offers a very flattering portrayal of life insurance agents. They’re right up there with Ned Ryerson from “Groundhog Day” when it comes to detestability. In fact, I can’t think of one sympathetic — or even just normal — portrayal of a life insurance agent in TV or movies. Ever.
No big deal, though, right? It’s just Hollywood. But actually, I think it is a big deal. Whether we like to admit it or not, TV shows and movies shape our interests, habits, tastes, buying patterns — you name it. “Blood Diamond” created a surge in demand for non-conflict diamonds. Kids are flocking to the archery centers here because of “The Hunger Games.” Everyone points and laughs at Segway-riding mall cops after “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” (Well, okay, we laughed at them before that movie, too.)
LIMRA research earlier this year found that only 39% of U.S. households recalled having an opportunity to buy life insurance within the last two years. If that’s true, the bulk of Americans are likely only encountering the pesky, bumbling, in-your-face life insurance agents that appear when they flip on the TV or head to the movies. No wonder, then, that most people aren’t flocking to buy adequate life insurance coverage — who wants to deal with those annoying agents? Or that the industry has a high turnover rate and major self-esteem issues among its workforce. Or that young people aren’t opting for “uncool” careers in insurance sales.
Unless one of the five readers of my blog is personal friends with Steven Spielberg, it’s not likely we’ll see this change anytime soon, either. (And if you are close friends with Steven Spielberg, well, I wouldn’t mind an introduction and/or an autograph or two…)
So what can agents do instead? It’s not quite as effective as a summer blockbuster, but getting out there is definitely a step in the right direction. Defy the stereotype. Show people that life insurance agents aren’t actually here to sell, but to help — and then help them. With every positive, normal encounter you have with people, whether in person, on Facebook or over the phone, you’ll help boost the reputation of your profession.
Or, you know, produce your own film about a life insurance superhero who wears pleated jeans, and we’ll all watch it on Netflix Instant when we’re bored. Or, at least, I will.
Tell me about your ideal life insurance movie or TV character and your pick for the actor or actress who would play him/her in the comments section below!
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