The 60-second television advertisement that John Nuveen & Company of Chicago ran at the cost of $5 million during Super Bowl XXXIV, and again during post-game, drew mixed reviews from advertising critics and the general public.
Intended to inspire investors with the computer-generated sight of paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve getting up and walking out of his wheelchair at an awards ceremony, the ad carried the tag line, "Invest Well. Leave Your Mark. John Nuveen." The spot marked the beginning of a new creative campaign, called "Leave Your Mark," that Nuveen's advertising agency, Fallon McElligott of Minneapolis, has created for the fund complex.
The premise of the advertisement is that investments in medical research had resulted in neurological and spinal-cord advances so significant that they could bring Reeve out of his wheelchair, Nuveen said in a statement before running the ad. (MFMN 1/31/00)
However, the sight of Christopher Reeve fictitiously realizing his dream of being able to walk again, left at least some viewers and some critics with chills, instead of the spot's intended inspirational uplift.
New York Times advertising critic Stuart Elliott wrote in his Feb. 1 column, "Special effects in a commercial for Nuveen Investments made it seem as if the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve could walk. It would have been inspirational, rather than crass and more than a little creepy, if the spot were selling increased research for spinal-cord injuries."
"I am not sure there are investors who want to equate investing with miracles," said Marcia Selz, president and chief research director of Marketing Matrix, a mutual fund advertising research and consulting firm in Los Angeles. "Investing is a methodical, disciplined approach to providing for your future and your financial goals, and miracles should not enter into that equation."
The advertisement opens with a train approaching a train station, and then moves to a circle-in-the-round symposium hall where, the viewer quickly learns, an award for a neurological breakthrough in spinal-cord injuries is about to be accepted. An announcer tells the audience of the symposium hall that a very special guest recipient is about to step forward to accept the award.
The camera cuts to a young man, paralyzed in a wheelchair, watching this event from his own television screen. The viewer then sees a man in a tuxedo stepping forward in slow motion. It slowly becomes evident that this person is Christopher Reeve, who beams as he steps forward to shake the hand of the announcer. The audience goes wild with excitement in the background, and the black-and-white graphics of the commercial's tag line replace the images on the screen.
"The aim was to elevate a dialogue between the advisor and affluent investors to think about the deeper purpose of wealth," said Rob Buchner, group director on the Nuveen account at Fallon McElligott. "[Much of] the financial-services industry is the promise of a comfortable retirement and financial security for one's self. But Nuveen's vision is not only for one's own financial security and comfort, but . . . leaving a legacy for one's family and contributing back to the community.
"The dialogue in the commercial says, Amazing things will happen in the future. What amazing things can happen in your world? Invest well. Leave your mark.' And the intention here is that investment decisions made today can have dramatic impact in the future and each of us have the ability to do so," Buchner said.
A Nuveen marketing executive did not return phone calls. But, in a statement prior to the Super Bowl, Tim Schwertfeger, chairman and CEO of Nuveen said, "Our goal is to change the way people think about wealth. We are trying to raise the public dialogue on wealth from glamour to responsibility, from luxury to legacy."
Viewers tended to have one of two reactions to the advertisement. Some viewers felt reassured that celebrities like Christopher Reeve champion various afflictions and thereby increase the chances of cures being found for them. Others simply dismissed the ad as too eerie.