CAMPAIGNS: Service Promotion - Child stars teach boomers to save

Client: SunAmerica (Los Angeles)

Client: SunAmerica (Los Angeles)

Client: SunAmerica (Los Angeles)

PR Team: Bragman Nyman & Cafarelli (Los Angeles)

Campaign: Child Stars Teach Boomers to Save

Time Frame: Mid-July through September 1999

Budget: dollars 50,000 to dollars 100,000

Financial services isn’t a sexy category. How do you dress up non-visual

retirement products, especially when they’re targeted to boomers in

denial about their savings situation?

A big challenge for anyone. But it is especially difficult for

SunAmerica, a wholly owned subsidiary of American International Group,

which specializes in retirement programs and doesn’t boast the name

recognition of Fidelity or Prudential.

Yet ad agency Deutsch came up with a campaign that - with its light

approach - turned the category on its ear. The ads, which aired in June

and generated much talk, appealed to baby boomers’ love of luxurious

cars, watches and diamonds (SunAmerica found that 61% of men and 53% of

women in that generation say they have little or no retirement savings).

The fantasy was jarringly juxtaposed with the reality of what those

goodies will do to your retirement kitty - that dollars 6,500 watch is

really worth dollars 30,296, assuming pre-tax annual growth at 8% over

20 years.

The challenge: how to continue the buzz with an equally exciting

publicity effort?


’Our goal was to get our brand into consumer media,’ says Don Spetner,

SunAmerica’s VP for corporate communications. ’It’s hard to get a

non-sexy, complicated product on television.’ Spetner came up with the

idea of using former child stars who had squandered their fortunes -

boomers are nostalgic and the nation is celebrity-crazed. The ex-stars

would get media attention and boomers might listen to their advice about


The company came up with three former kid stars: Brandon Cruz, Eddie on

the Courtship of Eddie’s Father; Jon Provost, Timmy on Lassie; and Paul

Petersen who starred as Jeff on The Donna Reed Show. Petersen and his

wife had gone on to create A Minor Consideration, a nonprofit advocacy

group for child stars. ’We were looking for people who were

irresponsible then, but presentable now,’ Spetner explains.


To kick things off, SunAmerica’s PR agency, Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, put

on a splashy party/press conference at the Museum of Television & Radio

in Beverly Hills on July 19. Members of the press interviewed the three

stars and Eli Broad, chairman and CEO of SunAmerica. Other former child

stars like Morgan Brittany of Dallas and Stan Livingston of My Three

Sons were also there. SunAmerica presented Petersen’s organization with

a dollars 10,000 donation. The follow-up act was a barrage of interviews

by Petersen on CNNfn and shows like Good Day New York on the Fox


In addition, there was a press kit that included statistics on America’s

paltry savings rate, a brochure with saving tips and a promotional watch

- a tie-in to the watch ad.


Timing is everything. Two things worked against the campaign. Thirty

members of the press were invited to the party, but the event came two

days after John F. Kennedy Jr.’s disappearance. The timing was also off

in that most talk shows were on hiatus. ’We got about one-fifth of what

we expected,’ says Michael Nyman, president of Nyman Bragman


But Spetner insists the campaign exceeded objectives. What surprised

him, he says, was the coverage on the business pages of newspapers like

the Los Angeles Times and the trades Investment News and Institutional

Investor. ’I took it as a sign of success that we got in the tabloid the

Globe,’ he adds. Another point of pride came at a cocktail party

honoring the company’s chairman. ’The mayor of Los Angeles comes up to

me, and when I introduced myself, he asked me if I was the one who did

that child star thing,’ he says. ’He said it was one of the greatest

campaigns he’d seen.’


Who’s next at bat? Spetner is talking with former major league baseball

players to do a campaign similar to the child stars effort.

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