What You Need to Know
- Betty White began serving as a spokeswoman for life settlements in 2002.
- The author's firm could barely afford her.
- Then, she went viral.
Back in 2002, my colleague Stephen Terrell and I were brainstorming about the life settlement industry. We had started working together years earlier and helped start the industry back when most of our clients were HIV and AIDS patients. Like most industries, ours had gone through many ups and downs. Some bad operators, who didn’t care about the clients but rather only wanted to line their pockets, had damaged the industry. While we truly believed in the potential for life insurance settlements, we felt that our company and the industry were a bit hamstrung by bad press and negative connotations.
We also knew that for the industry to grow, it needed institutional capital. At the time, no traditional funding sources were available in the industry as it was just too easy for the Wall Street players to say no. Stephen and I determined that what we needed was a spokesperson that everyone knew and trusted to help us solidify the reputation of life settlements. We knocked around a bunch of different names, including personal financial gurus and other famous talking heads, but we knew we had to find someone that agents and our clients could relate to. Stephen’s idea was to try to get Betty White, and frankly, I didn’t think we had much of a chance. Despite my pessimism, Stephen contacted Betty’s people and we were able to sign her to a marketing contract.
At first, the reactions were mixed. We distributed a news release, announcing our agreement, and the phone began to ring, primarily with crank calls from competitors asking if “Betty was home?” Maybe we weren’t as brilliant as we thought.
We originally hired Betty for communications and marketing activities exclusively for agents. We couldn’t afford to put her on national television. Honestly, we could barely afford her at all. We created videos, explanatory pieces, and collateral materials that featured Betty, and they went directly to agents who could share them with their senior clients. Once the materials were on the street, the real “Betty effect” took hold, and we quickly realized we had hit a home run. Agents who had been skeptical about life settlements were now calling and asking questions. Marketing packages were flying out the door, and we were getting applications from all corners of the country.
Betty was a household name among agents and advisors, and their clients loved her. Interestingly, we had brought her on before her most recent renaissance. Advisors, agents, and clients knew her mainly from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls.” At the time, Betty had not been working as much but not for lack of trying.
Shortly after she started working with us, she starred in her famous Snickers Super Bowl commercial, and a new fire was lit. She started on a terrific run that included “The Proposal” with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds as well as the hit TV show “Hot in Cleveland.” She never forgot us and even took us along for the ride — literally and figuratively. Despite her newfound success, she stayed with us, eventually filming a company video that went viral, called “I’m Still Hot,” and when she hosted “Saturday Night Live,” I attended as her guest and even went to the infamous afterparty.
From a business perspective, Betty helped bring the life insurance settlement industry mainstream. She came with a big tent that had plenty of room for new agents, new clients, and even Wall Street bigwigs who began to take notice of the industry. If you plot the timeline of the life settlement industry, Betty’s participation was a key milepost for growth, from both an economic and credibility perspective. She helped showcase life insurance settlements as a safe way for seniors to turn unneeded policies into cash.