Pru puts premium on inner 'rock'-ness

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Advertiser: Prudential Insurance Co. of America
Agency: Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis
Ad Review rating: 3 stars (out of 4)

Before we get to the striking new campaign from Prudential Insurance Co. of America, the life insurance industry as a whole brings you this important news: You are going to die.

Die. Die. Die.

Never to see your loved ones again. Never to smell a rose or movie popcorn. Totally ineligible for the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

Dead.

If you've made a fortune, you can't spend it. If science finds the cure to your disease, it's too damn late. If the Cubs make it to the Series, you miss the whole thing.

Worm food, bubba. Now here's a $500,000 whole life policy. Sign here.

That's not verbatim, but it's sure the gist of advertising created by Bozell/Eskew, New York, the Life & Health Insurance Foundation for Education, a coalition of big insurers banding together to do what none of them dares do alone: remind people of their extremely bleak long-term prognosis.

Companies daren't act individually, of course, because people don't like being assaulted with their own mortality and don't tend to throw money at the messenger. But with industrywide sales declining, the "education foundation" hopes that fear, guilt and bluntness will create a rising tide that lifts all ships.

It could happen. And, if it does, a prime beneficiary will be the Pru, whose beautiful and stirring campaign from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, has found a whole new way to broach the issue of financial responsibility.

"Somehow, at some deep level, we're responsible for what happens to us," says a thoughtful winter hiker in voice-over, as we see him hike a pristine landscape in snowshoes. "I'm always trying to save money and invest in the future. I'm a nut about it. I mean, you're the best investment you've got. You're the best investment you'll ever have."

The onscreen message, mining decades of equity by forsaking the monolithic Gibraltar for a look inward: "Be your own rock."

There are four such "real-person" vignettes in the campaign, a second depicting an elderly grandfather playing with his grandkids at the beach. "Prepare yourself well," he counsels, "not half well."

Insurance and investment companies have tried every scare tactic and rational argument to get consumers to face the future. But never before has sound planning been framed as self-actualization, as a means to inner fulfillment. Peace of mind we've heard and heard. This campaign commends financial responsibility as a path to spiritual solace.

It is an affecting message, magnificently wrought.

Jeffrey Plansker of Propaganda Films has produced the most arresting commercial footage in years, combining dramatic photography, high contrast lab effects and the vivid mix of dialogue, music and ambient sound. And in their midst: breathtaking moments of visual metaphor. In the snow walker spot, the frame freezes for a moment and flashes to its negative as the man collapses in the snow. Dead? No. He's making a snow angel in giddy solitude. In the seashore spot, what are the children doing? Burying Grampa. In the sand.

Alas, while the campaign makes a powerful, emotional case for taking control of your financial destiny, it says nothing compelling about this particular advertiser. Be my own rock? Sure, I'll be my own rock. Maybe I'll call New York Life.

If they care to take the risk. I'm informed, you see, that I'm going to die.

Copyright February 1996 Crain communications Inc.

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