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Last week, Newsweek announced that it would shutter its print edition in favor of an online-only strategy. Aside from the occasional doctor’s office copy, I never read Newsweek, and I thought they pulled too many “hey-look-at-me!” stunts near the end.

Yet, the news still disappointed me and, from the looks of my Twitter feed, a lot of other people involved in journalism. Every time a newspaper or magazine shuts its doors, even just its print-edition doors, it feels like a little loss to the industry, I think.

But the more hand-wringing blog commentaries I read about Newsweek, the more I realized how disproportionately we react to losing things. There are plenty of successful online news outlets and blogs that have blossomed over the years and will be able to pick up any slack Newsweek might leave behind, yet you rarely hear us celebrating those gains.

It’s a mentality that colors the way we look at a lot of things. We spend more time moaning about our loser sports teams than gloating about our winning ones. We panic when the stock market dives but only casually notice when it’s up.

Which made me think, why hasn’t the life insurance industry figured this out? If we react more strongly to a loss — and what’s a bigger loss than death? — why do life insurance ads always feature happy families rolling around on a lawn or yachting somewhere sunny? Why do agents cloak sales presentations in the gain-oriented talk of weddings, babies and new home purchases?

Of course, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news. And I think our inner-marketers, raised on years of ads that make everything from doing laundry to fighting zits look fun, tend to veer toward the positive. But in the process, we’re neglecting to show Americans the utter catastrophe that can occur when they, or a loved one, pass away without adequate life insurance protection. Maybe that’s why most Americans treat life insurance like a discretionary commodity rather than a necessity.

Perhaps it’s time we shower people with a little gloom and doom and see what happens. I’m not saying agents or carriers should sensationalize things — look how far that got Newsweek. But maybe ads should shed the sunny stock photos and showcase real stories of families who lacked life insurance instead. Or maybe agents should focus less on the fun catalysts for the purchase of life insurance — those weddings and births — and more on the bad things life insurance protects against — like overdue bills or home foreclosure.

Empty cupboards and funerals don’t paint the prettiest picture, but they’d likely paint a clearer, more noticeable one. And given the number of Americans who lack adequate life insurance, that’s exactly what we need.

 

For more from Corey Dahl, see:

Life insurance: Cause or product?

Is life insurance the next Big Bird?

Not the marrying kind