Some may consider values like financial strength, integrity and humanity a bit stodgy for an advertising campaign by a financial services company in the 21st century, but not at New York Life.

At the end of January, the 160-year-old firm launched a $30 million national television, radio and print offensive that will run through the rest of the year built around a theme of unchanging values. Berlin Cameron/Red Cell of New York developed the campaign.

New York Life's use of values as the central theme for its self-promotion dates back to 1997. Subsequent campaigns have expanded on that theme but continue to tout what the company sees as its core values.

The messages of financial strength, integrity and humanity haven't changed, explained Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Carolyn Buscarino. "The challenge for us was to make that message fresh, visually and in the copy," she said.

The new ads retain some of the elements from New York Life's previous "Heritage" campaign launched in 2002, including music composed by Carter Burwell, who has written scores for the Coen Brothers, the voiceover by actress Ruby Dee and the tagline "the company you keep."

"But what's different is the way we tell the stories," Buscarino said.

Promises to Keep

Longevity is a keystone in the new ads. For example, a spot called "Policy," which aired at the end of January, shows a New York Life policy unchanging as its surroundings morph over time. "That's a symbol of our promises to people," Buscarino explained. "With a life insurance policy, and certainly with an annuity, people pay us premiums year after year with the trust that we'll be there 20, 30, 40 years from now to make good on our promises."

"The idea is that promises don't come with an expiration date," she added. "This is a promise for life."

Another ad, "Father and Son," depicts a New York Life agent passing along his business to his son. "That's a very common story on the micro level," Buscarino said, "but on the macro level, it's about promises being passed on through generations, which is what we're all about."

The third ad in the series, "Insurance Store," is similar to the "Policy" spot, but with the storefront of a New York Life agent remaining in place as the world changes around it. "The message is that we're in every big and small town in the United States," Buscarino said. "We're part of people's neighborhoods. We're part of people's lives, and we have been for 160 years and we will be for 160 more."

Supplementing the TV ads will be a print campaign in 15 markets: New York; Los Angeles; Boston; Washington; San Francisco; Sacramento, Calif.; Dallas; Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Huntsville-Decatur, Ill.; Jacksonville, Fla.; New Orleans; Omaha, Neb.; and Sioux Falls, N.D. The ads are scheduled to run in business and personal finance publications such as Fortune, Forbes, BusinessWeek, Black Enterprise, Business 2.0, Inc. and SmartMoney. Newsweeklies where they will run include Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. Plus, they will appear in general-interest magazine Reader's Digest, sports publication Sports Illustrated and magazines targeting parents including Parents, Parenting, FamilyFun and Working Mother.

This campaign marks the first time New York Life has pitched its story in parenting magazines. "Through our print selection, we're trying to get more visibility in the women's market," Buscarino observed.

Adults from 25 to 44 years old with children still living at home and annual household incomes between $40,000 and $100,000 are the primary target market for the campaign. The secondary market is adults from 35 to 64 years old who own two or more financial products and have an annual household income of $75,000 or more.

While some financial service companies have opted to hawk hot products and big returns in their advertising, Buscarino believes New York Life's approach is a better one for the uncertainties facing financial services shoppers today. "A lot of ads from life insurance companies in the past have focused on specific products, and I think that went over the consumer's head," she said. "As you can imagine, it's difficult to describe an annuity in 30 seconds."

So is New York Life's advertising approach a tad staid for the new millennium? "In 1997, it may have been too quiet and conservative, although it was just right for us," Buscarino said. "But as the economy changed and consumers' concerns changed, we've been right on target."

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