A famous faux-commercial from “Saturday Night Live” has Sam Waterston as pitchman for Old Glory Insurance. Waterston, former star of NBC’s “Law & Order,” warns of a dire threat plaguing the nation. He plays it so straight it isn’t until the nature of the threat is revealed that the viewer understands the joke—robots are attacking the elderly.
“As a senior citizen, you’re probably aware of the threat robots pose,” Waterston deadpans. “Robots are everywhere, and they eat old people’s medicine for fuel.”
Pretty amusing; especially against the backdrop of a low-tech, 1950s robot smashing through an elderly couple’s bedroom door to gobble their pills.
It’s easy to laugh at irrational fears, especially as we age. But playing off the fears of others? Not so much.
For a short time, a colleague was employed with a firm that was riding high on variable annuities in the early part of the last decade. Their marketing and sales techniques were typical of too many questionable business practices industry—wide at the time that eventually came to light. It wasn’t just that they were telling their appointed advisors to scare older people, but they were writing it down. He remembers reading official memoranda that suggested they remind depression-era babies of the hardships they and their family went through, and then of course pitch the product’s inherent guarantees as a way to guard against a similar crash. The economic crisis exposed not only the immorality of such techniques, but also the folly, as every sector of the economy, including insurance, was rocked to its foundation.