Amid Meltdown, Retirement Ads Stay On Message

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There's one place where it seems the financial crisis has not hit: TV ads for retirement investment. Retirees still seem to be taking misty walks on the beach. Why aren't retirement investment funds running ads that tout their ability to help you beat the market fluctuations?


From NPR News this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. Believe it or not, there's one place in this country where the financial picture looks rosy and Wall Street seems secure. To find that magical place, check out the commercials for some retirement financial services.

(Soundbite of retirement financial services commercial)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Wisdom, the world, Morgan Stanley, world wise.

BLOCK: Morgan Stanley looked a bit more world wise when its stock was trading at $67 a share, less so earlier this week, when that fell to $9 at one point. And it's not just Morgan Stanley. NPR's Kim Masters explores why right now retirement commercials seem totally divorced from financial reality.

KIM MASTERS: If you watch commercials that Pacific Life has been airing in the past week or so, some of those dreamy images might strike you as a bit out of date.

(Soundbite of retirement financial services commercial)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Retirement isn't just about spending endless hours enjoying warm tropical waters.

MASTERS: No. It's trying to keep your head above water.

(Soundbite of retirement financial services commercial)

Unidentified Announcer #2: It's not even just about leaping and jumping for joy because you planned ahead smartly.

MASTERS: No, that isn't the kind of leaping that folks are thinking about these days. Of course, not all the ads promise a day at the beach.

(Soundbite of retirement financial services commercial)

Unidentified Announcer #3: We work around the clock to turn dreams into realities. That's why Citi never sleeps.

MASTERS: With dreams turning to nightmares for so many, one might conclude that these ads are...

Ms. JEAN SETZFAND (Director of Financial Security, AARP): Insensitive at best, because I think very few people are dreaming about a beach vacation. They're actually trying to figure out what they're going to do in terms of making ends meet.

MASTERS: Jean Setzfand is AARP's director of financial security. She figures these ads are leftovers from earlier campaigns. But she doesn't think they're effective just now.

I know you're not an advertising person, but how would you sell this stuff at this point? What would you be able to say to people?

Ms. SETZFAND: I think it's a matter of not taking the point of view of the long-term being on the beach or imagining a life that the investment firms have been touting of a beautiful retirement, but really using this time to take a hard look at whether things are still on track.

MASTERS: That doesn't put a lot of sizzle in the steak. But then again, we're probably not talking about steak now, are we? Last month, AARP did a survey of workers aged 45 and older. One in five had stopped contributing to their retirement plans in the past year, and the great majority said that was because they couldn't afford to. So Setzfand suggests that ads take a more somber approach.

Ms. SETZFAND: People actually look for information when there's a problem, when there's a pressure point.

MASTERS: That would be right around now. We called Morgan Stanley and Pacific Life to ask if there were plans to go for a different kind of advertising campaign. Neither responded. Kim Masters, NPR News.

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