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12 of the best retirement TV ads

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Advertising is not an easy task. With the latest survey in human attention span saying that ours is down to eight seconds, this means that for the 15-, 30- or 60-second TV commercial to be effective, it has to deliver a lot in those first seconds.

How many TV ads can you recall, right now, off the top of your head? If you even vaguely remember the company or product, does that make it successful? How did the ad make you feel? Did it prompt you to take action? These are some of the things that determine if the TV spot got the (expensive) message across, or if it was just more background noise.

Over the next few pages, you will find a list of some of the best TV commercials about retirement. Do you have any favorites that weren’t included in this list? Leave them in a comments section below.

10.  Shopping at a mall

Company: Ameriprise Financial

What it’s about: A big flag drops down in the middle of what seems to be a very busy shopping mall, with a question on it: Can you keep your lifestyle in retirement? The ad then goes on to interview random people at the mall, asking them this question.

Why it works: This ad has a documentary-like feel to it, almost an imitation of what Prudential has been doing for about two years with their retirement experiment (more on that later). But the marketing masterminds figured that, hey, maybe if they hired Tommy Lee Jones, it would be different.

Despite the familiar elements, the ad still feels genuine, even if we are all wondering in the back of our minds: Are those actors or really randomly-picked shoppers? One of the biggest shockers comes when one of the patrons replies, with a smile on his face: “I don’t even know how to answer that. No one knows how their money’s gonna last.” I can hear the opportunity alarm going off …

9. Squirrel!

Company: Voya Financial

What is it about? You know how squirrels store acorns for a long winter? Well, this squirrel, origami-ed from a weird, orange-colored $1 bill by what seems like movie magic, appears while a couple reviews what we hope aren’t bills and is, in fact, their retirement plan.

The squirrel kind of takes center stage in the ad, while the couple sees their plans on a tablet and takes more of a background role.

Why it works: While the comparison between a squirrel gathering acorns for a harsh winter and people putting money away for their retirement is cute, it is also very simple to follow. Throughout the ad, the squirrel stashes acorns (by now you know they mean money) in a suitcase, in a volunteer’s uniform pocket and behind a kid’s portrait. In the end, the squirrel also seems to have a love for shoes, which begs the question: Can you save money for retirement, while also keeping a shoe fund? Yes, Voya!

8. Based on a real-life story

Manulife Financial

What is it about? There’s an older gentleman running in a dark and scary park, while he narrates and explains why he never thought he would be able to retire. He then hops over a tiny house model, runs through a business office coming down on him, and faces a final obstacle: A mountain of books. He conquers the mountain, a brief visual of a diploma behind him, and says: “Suddenly I was 50, with little saved and only 15 years left to prepare. But I did it.”

Why it works: This is a story that anyone, no matter the age, can relate to. You have to pay your mortgage, figure out how to keep a “struggling business” afloat, pay for your kids’ college education. How can you juggle so many financial responsibilities while also saving for retirement? That’s where Manulife can help you – and by this time, the man is running though the same park at dawn. Talk about seeing the light at the end of the tunn—er, park!

7. Meet Alex


What is it about? A narrator introduces what Transamerica does and then introduces Alex, who goes on to explain that, after years of working, he was finally able to repay himself and his family. The ad shows Alex leaving his office after what seems like a retirement party, and then at home with his grandchildren.

Near the end of the ad, the narrator takes over and says: “Everyone has a moment when tomorrow becomes real. Transamerica. Transform tomorrow.”

Why it works: Why does that phrase, “Everyone has a moment when tomorrow becomes real,” seem almost prophetic? Because it is! Think back to when you found out that you were expanding your family, or that you finally graduated from college or high school, or when you finally signed the loan papers to buy your very first BMW or house …  All those moments defined your tomorrow and are specific points in time that determined which way your life was going to go.

This ad makes retirement real for anyone by bringing in “real talk.”

6. At a retirement party

Company: Chase

What is it about? The ad opens with a lady hugging a little baby and thanking the crowd for making her life special. What you barely notice is the man standing nearby, who then keeps appearing at different parties. You start to wonder: Is this guy a party planner or just a party crasher? No … he’s the retirement advisor that made retirement possible for all of his clients, who thank him.

Why it works: Secretly, we all wish our clients and friends invited us to their retirement parties, right? They really look like fun events. The ad also presents another side to the financial planning profession, a side that many might fail to see: clients who are genuinely grateful for being able to achieve the retirement milestone and who want to share that with their advisors.

5. Traveling across the world in slow-mo

Company: Merrill Lynch

What is it about? “Before hitting a number became only part of the equation,” a narrator says while two adults are climbing over what seems to be The Great Wall of China in slow-motion. He continues to narrate about how family is a bond and something about the ups and downs of the market, while in the background, there are other scenarios playing, but everything is still in slow-motion.

Why it works: It shows retirees doing retirement-type activities like traveling internationally, being there when their grandkids arrive in this world and going back to school. The ad appeals to pre-retirees and even retirees who are already enjoying this period in their lives because the advisors help their clients connect “your wealth with your health and your life” both before and during retirement.

Bonus: There’s another really great ad from Merrill Lynch that tells the story of how a guy started thinking about his retirement when he was about 6 years old. Not only is the story funny, but the soundtrack (Billy Joel’s “My life”) is quite catchy.

4. Missed (love?) connection

Company: AXA U.S.

What is it about? A lady is reading a magazine about retirement (is it Retirement Advisor?!) at a coffee shop and looks worried. At the same time, a man is drawing her beautifully. He’s paying attention to her every move. Just when we think she might’ve noticed him, she walks out of the coffee shop, too preoccupied with worries about her retirement to notice the man. And then, a very sad thing happens: a caption appears with the words “/ that was her soulmate.”

Why it works: When you’re stressed out or worried, sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of you. We can all relate to the scenario: The lady is worried about her future. Fortunately for this woman, all of this changes when she has a trusted advisor from AXA, who helps her plan “in very small steps” that are more manageable. Spoiler alert: In the end, she does notice the artist guy and has coffee with him. (Good luck!)

3. A carbon-copy of you

Company: Raymond James

What is it about? In what looks like a Wes Anderson movie (think The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel), “brilliantly practical scientist Harriet Tuttle’s tireless search for a more efficient life concluded with a most unorthodox solution,” says a narrator. Harriet decided to create four more Harriets. Even though they were identical and “together, they were the model of efficiency,” they had different interests and different retirement plans.   

Why it works: How many times have you thought or said out loud: “Oh, I wish there were more of me!” or “That would take two of me to finish!” These phrases, usually said under stress, were taken literally by the marketing creatives who penned this TV ad.

The ad itself is a funny, movie-like snippet, that doesn’t really push for a product. It is effective because it is entertaining.

2. Putting in your 15-year notice

Company: State Farm

What is it about? An employee is telling her boss that she’s putting in her “15-year notice” because, after some careful consideration and help from a State Farm agent, she’s decided to retire in 15 years. The boss is “totally blindsided” and says that it’s a “devastating blow I was unprepared for.” To which she replies that she’s going to finish packing her things (she already has a box partly filled with them). “Fifteen years will really sneak up on you,” she says.

Why it works: Fifteen years might seem like a lifetime, but it’s really not that long if you’re just starting to save for retirement. When the lady says that 15 years will really sneak up on you, she’s right. We can all understand that planning for retirement now — and for the succession of your business, as well — is the smartest decision you can make.

1. A marshmallow temptation

Company: Prudential

What is it about?

This isn’t really a TV ad, but rather part of the “Bring Your Challenges” campaign from Prudential, which helps educate people about their retirement. The video is modeled after the Stanford University marshmallow experiment, a series of studies on delayed gratification where a child is offered a small reward up front, or a bigger one if they wait 15 minutes.

Why it works:

Prudential decided to use the experiment as a comparison between instant gratification now — say, buying a flashy new car rather than bumping up your 401(k) contributions — and more meaningful gratification later.

It’s interesting to see what some of these little kids do to distract themselves from the marshmallow in front of them. Others succumb to their human nature and eat the treat right away. In the end, hopefully the kids — and their audience — have learned an important lesson: Waiting and investing intelligently will double your savings.

Bonus: Dominoes experiment

This is one of the TV ads that Prudential is running nationally. In their now traditional style of advertising, the host, Professor Daniel Gilbert, a known social psychologist and the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, asks to a group of people hanging around a plaza: “How much money do you have in your pocket right now, and could something that small make an impact on something as big as your retirement?”

Some in the crowd respond that they don’t think so, but then the amount of money that they have in their pockets is written into dominoes which are placed on a straight row leading up to a towering domino at the end. Gilbert flicks the tiny dominoes and what follows is the domino effect — with a loud thud at the end.

International TV ad bonus

Company: MLC, Australia

What is it about?

A lady and her gentleman are riding in a convertible while music from the 1950s plays in the background. However, something seems off: The background isn’t moving and, as the camera pans out, the wheels on the car aren’t moving either.

Soon, you’ll realize why. A kid and his grandpa are nearby, and the kid asks his grandpa, “What is retirement?” The grandfather, who is in a suit, explains nostalgically, “People did it [retirement] when I was a boy.”

See also:

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