• 12.02.15

Why Prudential Wants People To Literally Run For Their Retirement

Chief brand officer Colin McConnell talks about the strategy behind the company’s latest campaign to convince you to save more for later.

Why Prudential Wants People To Literally Run For Their Retirement

Saving enough for retirement is a bit like flossing your teeth. Everyone knows they should be doing it more, but we rarely think about it until tax time or an annual dentist appointment. And too often both topics leave us feeling guilty and, frankly, totally bummed out.


For a brand like Prudential, the challenge is to make saving for your retirement seem important, interesting and achievable, all at the same time. For a recent white paper, the company’s research found that one-in-three Americans is not saving enough for retirement, 40% of millennials are not saving at all for retirement today, and just 21% of people consider themselves well equipped to make wise financial decisions.

To help remedy the situation, the brand and agency Droga5 have launched the new “Race For Retirement” campaign, which hinges on a pledge to save just 1% more of your annual earnings for retirement, and turns the idea of a 401K into a 4.01-kilometer fun run. On November 7th, thousands of people took part in the first race in Washington, D.C., where various signs along the race allow runners to declare their level of financial savvy, and more than 17,000 people have so far pledged to increase their savings for retirement. Also now anyone can pledge to save and run their own 4.01K through an integration with the Map My Fitness app.

Prudential chief brand officer Colin McConnell says that because retirement savings is such a well-beaten drum, it’s no surprise that people are tuning out, but the challenge is figuring out how to get them to pay attention without guilt-tripping or scare tactics. There’s a standing brief between Prudential and Droga5 with an aim to reframe the topic. “In everything we do creatively, we try to come at it from a completely new angle, which isn’t easy in financial services, and retirement in particular,” says McConnell. “The 4.01K idea was born out of that and the always-on brief is about trying to challenge the notion that financial services is a low engagement category. You hear that all the time, and it kind of becomes an excuse for either not giving it your best effort or explaining away milquetoast results.”

The thinking behind the new campaign, the run, and new ads featuring Harvard psychology professor and best-selling author Dan Gilbert, owes a debt to lessons from previous work. McConnell points to how ads like The Dominoes Experiment and The Magnets Experiment used uniquely visual ways to illustrate the impact of savings. “We’ve also been leaning heavily on premises of behavioral economics, hence the partnership with Professor Dan Gilbert,” says McConnell. “In most of these commercials, they are designed to uncover a behavioral idea, whether it’s herd mentality, or optimism bias, they’re just simple truths about ourselves. The reason financial services is a low engagement category is because we’re hard-wired to be bad at it. There’s no shame in that, and we’re trying to take the shame out of it.”

According to McConnell, financial services companies can have a habit of asking for the sale too quickly, or just go for the feel-good campaign done to mostly bolster trust. “But going back to using behavioral economics, if you ask people to make a pledge publicly, you’re more likely to do it,” he says. “The simple act of asking people to pledge to save an additional 1% of their annual income is a call to action that people can actually follow through on. You won’t forget you did it. We’ll never know what percentage of people actually follow through on it, but I’m confident that as a result of the campaign a substantial number of people will make a positive change in their retirement contributions this year that they wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.