Ameriprise's Dennis Hopper Spot: Wrong Icon, Right Tone

Saatchi & Saatchi Work Hypes Star, Neglects Brand

By Published on .

We recently came across an interesting quotation from a long-defunct magazine called Madison Avenue. In a piece about marketing to baby boomers, the author wryly observed: "It's only a matter of time before Jimi Hendrix shows up in a commercial for Arthritis Pain Formula."

Retirement investing
And who was that author, circa 1984? Why, by golly, it was us! Now, 22 years later, though that particular brand no longer has a high advertising profile, we're prepared to claim prescience. At least in spirit. There's a new ad on the air for retirement investing, in which the celebrity endorser says this:

"'Your dreams are crazy. They're impossible.' That's what they said back in the day, when your dreams changed everything. That's not gonna stop now. You're not gonna turn your dreams over to the authorities at age 60. You find someone who believes in your dreams."

Oh, did we mention who the endorser is? It's Dennis Hopper.

'Easy Rider' drug smuggler
Dennis Hopper! A drug smuggler in "Easy Rider." A brutal pervert in "Blue Velvet." A sociopathic bomber in "Speed." Not only is Hopper an icon of drug-addled, subversive, late-'60s counterculture, but his off-screen life hasn't been especially orderly, either. So of course he is now fronting for freakin' Wall Street.

Because, we suppose, Squeaky Fromme wasn't available.

Putting aside the weird sellout vibe it produces (let's just say that those '60s dreams weren't about bond yields and beach houses), this casting presumes that all leading-edge boomers identify with, or at least fondly recall Hopper's transgressive roles and his generally schizoid persona. This is a mistake. Not everyone from 1969 wanted to stick it to The Man.

The closest most boomers got to revolutionary thinking was to buy a pair of bellbottoms and snicker when Rowan or Martin said "You bet your bippy." Thus the Establishment managed to survive, and thus a fringe character like Hopper isn't necessarily symbolic of his generation. Joni Mitchell would be a better choice.

Strictly speaking, Flipper would be a better choice.

Glorifies star, neglects brand
There's also the question of how little the ad works to identify Ameriprise, which nobody has ever heard of. This spot is a classic example of Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, falling so in love with star power that it neglects the brand itself.

But we are prepared to forgive all of that, because we are just so thrilled. Yes, thrilled that this spot looks like what it looks like, and not like some brain-dead, condescending pitch -- a la Colonial Penn Insurance and Craftmatic adjustable beds -- to an audience of presumably doddering old fools. Could it be that the baby-boom generation will be the first, upon attaining retirement age, to be treated by Madison Avenue with dignity?

For so long, a retiree was an old coot, badly dressed and a little slow on the uptake. He's the one in mismatched flannel, pouring Country Time for the grandkids. Or she's the one in the kitchen with her husband, poring over some rip-off burial-insurance brochure, excitedly preparing to make that important call, in case the kids had maybe planned just to loot the estate and let the folks rot in situ.

It's as if a switch goes off in your 60s. One day you're a vibrant worker with responsibility, income and possibly even a sex life and -- wham -- the next you're a fearful dullard, being insultingly spoken down to by the very people who want your business.

So, never mind that Hopper isn't quite the right icon. We're just thrilled it wasn't Aunt Bea.

~ ~ ~
Review: 2.5 stars
Ad: Ameriprise
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Location: New York
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