PSAs that offer a wealth of information

Financial messages should be kept simple and offer solutions to complex situations.

Financial messages should be kept simple and offer solutions to complex situations.

While financial illiteracy may be a taboo subject for some, it's still an issue that affects more Americans than people realize. Organizations that produce PSAs with a financial focus need to recognize the different sectors that struggle with this issue and create a compelling message targeted toward each specific group.

The Advertising Council, which works on many financial literary programs, has a current campaign with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants targeting "career builders," 25- to 34-year-olds who are just out of school and upwardly mobile. "They're just starting their earning potential, and they're the ones we feel are most open to a savings message," says Kathy Crosby, Ad Council SVP and group campaign director.

"We have isolated an area of the target audience that we think is open to a message on savings, and [we] are helping them to understand that they can save a little bit every day, and it can make a huge difference 30 to 40 years from now," Crosby notes. Using the tagline of "Feed the pig," the Ad Council hopes that this simple message will reacquaint its audience with their piggybanks and encourage them to save a little every day.

Because the problem of financial illiteracy is so broad and affects so many people across many walks of life, it's important to do extensive research before developing a campaign. For many people, the core issue is feeling financially trapped.

"People either have one of two attitudes about money and managing money," says Jamie Rice, chief strategy officer for Carton Donofrio Partners, a marketing communications firm specializing in financial services. There are some who like to deal with their money and pay attention to their spending, and there are others who don't want to know much about it, he explains.

"People who are into money are not the targets of this kind of communication because they're engaged already," Rice notes.

Often, the group that is financially illiterate is looking for help - help that is simple and quick. Rice says the message they are looking for is simple: Tell me what I need to do the right thing. What usually doesn't work in these cases are PSAs telling the audience to jump through several hoops to get to the end result. The best message to get out is: Call, and we'll help you. He says this kind of message gets quick answers.

"If you look at debt consolidation people, they don't advertise that we will come and teach you how to live a debt-free life," Rice notes. "What they say is, 'Call us, and we'll help you fix this.'"

"You really have to rely on consumer research to understand what they think about the issue, what the barriers are to getting them to act a certain way, and then write the advertising based on the research insight," Crosby adds. "You have to understand the most relevant way to talk to the audience."

Because more Americans grapple with financial illiteracy than they care to admit, it's never good to be judgmental or do anything that will make them feel badly, Crosby advises. "The more you can encourage them through really smart, simple steps that they can follow that seem attainable and doable," she says, "the more the likelihood you'll help people out of the situation that they're in."

Doug Simon, president and CEO of DS Simon Productions, notes that the most popular topics for financial PSAs include: savings for retirement and college, reducing debt from credit or health expenses, buying a first home, tax compliance and trips through a government organization, and how to avoid bankruptcy.

Having produced and distributed several PSAs, Simon says that when putting a PSA together in the financial space, it's important to have clear, concise communication of what can be complex issues. "You can structure it as problem-solution," he explains.

One common mistake, Simon adds, is not including possible tips or solutions within the piece, making the message: "Here's the problem; go here for info." He recommends including tips within the segment so there is more viewer value. Consumers can then walk away from viewing the PSA with actual information. Simon also suggests that producing spots of different lengths will give stations maximum flexibility with airtime.

Technique tips

Produce a different message for every campaign sponsor

Research a target audience's attitudes toward finance

Produce different length PSAs

Assume that people are financially educated

Be judgmental in your message

Make the audience jump through hoops to get to the end result

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