Would You Have Approved This Ad?

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Branding is built on differentiation. Differentiation takes courage. Here’s a gut-check exercise for financial marketers.

By Josh Streufert, Creative Director at

I play a little mental game from time to time to help me keep my creative mind open. The game is called, “Would I Have Approved That?” It’s a game that’s easy to learn, simple to play, and you can do it just about anywhere. But before I explain the rules, a little background.

I’ve spent the last 15 years as a writer, concept developer, and creative director. And in that time, I’ve worked almost exclusively for financial institutions. I’ve worked on big, brassy projects, and wee little things. I’ve created and sold thousands of concepts. And I must have killed or rejected tens-of-thousands more.

And what have I learned in this time? Repetition can hone your skills, but it can also blunt innovation if you’re not careful.

I have personal preferences like anyone else. Have those preferences and gut reactions ever got in the way of a great idea? Probably. How many brilliant concepts have I let slip through my fingers over the years because I just didn’t see the potential? Hard to say, but I’m sure there’ve been some doozies. All of us who are in a professional position to approve or reject creative work have probably done the same. And we may have done it more often than we care to admit.

When I see a well-executed piece of creative — whether a billboard, a TV spot, a web banner — heck, it could be a statement stuffer — my natural reaction is, “Of course! That idea is so obviously good, it had no problem getting approved.”

But did it really?

No way. In reality, the creative team probably started with a brilliant “creative brief,” then went to work. They threw away a ton of decent ideas in search of one great one. Great ideas usually feel pretty weird at the beginning, but the hallmark of a good creative person is their ability to help others see the potential in a concept. In other words, it’s not the quality of ideas that matter in advertising and marketing. Nothing matters if you can’t get your ideas approved.

Which brings me to the game, “Would I have Approved That?”

How to Play

I start with a piece of well-executed creative. Then I try to mentally transport myself back in time. I try to imagine how the assignment was launched. How was the creative brief written? What were the goals of the organization? What key insight set the direction? Does the strategy hold up?

Then I try to imagine the concept as an idea on a piece of paper. What form did it take in the weeks and months before it made its public debut? How was it presented to the decision makers? If I were one of those decision makers, would I have seen the merits of the idea? Or would I have got hung up on the myriad of reasons do go another direction. Something safer. Something less “edgy.” Something more logical.

Would I have approved that?

for a financial investments firm. And as you do, try to imagine the idea being pitched to you for your approval.

As a marketing pro, you’re caught in an interesting dynamic. On one end, the creative team wants you to approve this concept (that they lost sleep over for weeks and love dearly, perhaps even irrationally). They made a good case. On the other side, your boss/CEO/board of directors wants you to reach your marketing goals without embarrassing the organization or making them look bad. Sometimes those forces feel very much at odds. In the middle, there’s you:‹ with all of your personal motivations and hot buttons, whatever they may be Under those conditions, it can be pretty hard to approve anything that doesn’t feel like a “sure thing.”

Okay, ready to play? Watch this, and as you do, think of all the positive qualities of the concept, but also make a mental list of the logical reasons why this spot should never be approved.

Did you like it? Don’t answer, because for this exercise it doesn’t matter.

Did you make mental list of reasons to kill it?

Here are five reasons that jumped out at me. Each of these I could imagine hearing as real feedback to this concept, all plausible reasons this spot should have never seen the light of day:

1. Raymond James didn’t exist then. The Librarian is 187 years old. But Raymond James was founded in 1962, so when she started “planning,” it couldn’t have been with Raymond James.

2. Raymond James is not a British company. There’s a British accent on the voice over. The lady looks vaguely British (especially as a young woman in the cobblestoned lined streets of her town). Some of the sets could have been used on a Downton Abbey shoot. I believe she’s riding a Norton Motorcycle (which admittedly is pretty cool). But Raymond James is headquartered in Florida.

3. Sex. Marriage bed + old people = gross. Someone’s going to complain.

4. Investing is serious. Sure, this spot is fun, maybe even funny. But investing is about people’s life savings. It’s serious, right? Should we be making jokes?

5. No one lives that long. No one can live to be 187. It’s impossible.

If you were inclined to talk yourself out of approving this concept, you could do it easily. There are dozens of “good reasons” to kill an idea like this.

And while I’d like to think that I would have approved this concept straight away, I can’t honestly say that I would have. The 187-year-old woman may have seemed too farcical to me on paper. Instead of a charming character, I may have viewed her as absurd, irrelevant, and unidentifiable (think: a female Leslie Neilsen). That alone might have been reason enough for me to discard this idea in search of another.

Would I have been right? If I were in a position to kill this ad, what would Raymond James have lost?

This commercial was beautifully shot, masterfully executed, and wonderfully directed. I can’t speak for you, but my sense of the Raymond James brand before seeing this spot was something boring, stuffy, and traditional. After seeing this spot, Raymond James is still boring, stuffy, and traditional ‹ but they’re also flexible, smart, and committed to tailoring the best possible plan for the needs of each of their clients.

More than anything, this ad told a story that compelled me to feel something about Raymond James that I would not have felt with a more logical, head-on, feature-oriented approach to the assignment. And that’s what great storytelling is all about.

That’s my gut check. What do you think?


josh_streufertJosh Streufert is the Creative Director at He leads the agency’s branding programs and ad campaigns with his unique consumer insights and critical creative thinking, directing a diverse group of interactive experts, traditional designers and talented writers. His extraordinary writing and conceptual skills in web, multi-media, brand design, and advertising have garnered hundreds of national awards.

This article was originally published on February 13, 2014. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Comments

  1. Jeffry Pilcher Josh Streufert | Weber Marketing Group says:

    Josh, the author of the article here.

    Here’s a rebuttal you could offer to each of the five reasons (cited above) to kill the Raymond James spot:

    1. RAYMOND JAMES DIDN’T EXIST THEN
    True. It’d be a stronger concept if Raymond James was a storied institution with 200 years of history behind it. But, of course, the concept doesn’t work with a woman who lives slightly longer than normal. How many viewers will fact check the history of Raymond James? And since clearly, no single financial planner would have been working with the woman for her whole life, does it matter?

    2. RAYMOND JAMES IS NOT BRITISH
    Chalk this up to poetic license. Raymond James is projecting an image here. Someone made a calculation about the brand personality attributes they wanted to project. This is the result. And clearly, it’s a result that’s compelling and interesting from a storytelling perspective.

    3. SEX
    Yup, it’s a fact of life ‹ even for old people. And in this case, it really helps to endear this woman to the viewer.

    4. INVESTING IS SERIOUS
    Of course it is. But the purpose of life (and investing), isn’t to be serious. It’s to live a life that’s enjoyable, rewarding, and hopefully fun.

    5. NO ONE LIVES THAT LONG
    Again, none of this works when it’s about the woman who lives to be 87. This concept is a fantasy of a care-free and rewarding life achieved through careful planning.

  2. As a marketing director of a financial institution service provider, I love to see ads like these. But… as a marketing director my first thought goes to, “What was the ROI on this spot?” Did Raymond James see a lofty return? My perception of the brand is undoubtedly better because of this video, but how much money did it make them?

    My next thought is, what did the brief say? Was the brief to raise brand perception with millennials 18-25? As a 22 year-old, I definitely got a kick out of the ad. How closely did the creative team stick to the brief? What was the reaction from their creative director. How did HE/SHE pitch the idea to account manager or Raymond James themselves?

    Finally, the spot was wonderful. I create a lot of video content myself and I always enjoy a well produced video. It caught my attention, that’s what mattered in the end I suppose. T’was your content that caught me though, not the network on which the spot aired.

  3. Hi Wilson,

    Thanks for your comment. Fundamentally, there are two kinds of advertising: brand/awareness advertising, and sales/promotional advertising. Any ad lacking a call-to-action (implicit or stated) is categorically a “bad ad.” But usually both types of ads — awareness and promotional — have calls-to-action. For a brand ad, such as the spot for Raymond James, the call-to-action is implicit: “Remember us, and associate our brand with savvy financial planning.”

    Most organizations (not just in financial, but in any industry) don’t have marketing budgets that allow for the luxury of brand/awareness advertising. If your budget isn’t at least $1 million, you probably don’t have the resources to invest in any type of marketing besides sales/direct-response and product/promotional messages.

    As a rule of thumb, marketers should target their advertising at the stage in the where they are weakest.

    If name awareness is your problem, then brand advertising is the answer. For Raymond James, I imagine this is the case. If you surveyed consumers, few probably cite Raymond James as a top-of-mind provider of financial planning services. Raymond James is likely looking to build brand awareness with its ads, so they at least can find themselves part of consumers’ decision-making process. After all, a consumer can’t consider a brand they’ve never heard of (or don’t think of). Raymond James will probably be evaluating the performance of their ad campaign in terms of consumer awareness: How many more consumers now think of Raymond James (favorably) when they think of financial planning than they did before?

  4. Let’s assume this ad’s primary objective was to increase brand awareness. If so, I would bet Raymond James management has not done benchmark research to learn just where their brand ranks now. This of course would be a good tool to deliver ‘objective’ support to whatever this ad did to its’ brand awareness. But my experience says Raymond James did nothing to set a measuring stick….point. They just assumed it was low and embarked on spending a boat load of money to see what happens. Shame, Shame, Shame…

  5. What a great article and perfect spot you have found to challenge us. I went through the questions and I have to say that (sadly) I did find myself coming up with all sorts of ways to not approve the commercial. It was a nice “gut check” and has reminded me that without courage, you can’t break away. Thanks very much!

    You are right about the British narration and her Downton-esque lifestyle, but I think most people don’t know Raymond James isn’t worldwide. His narration lent itself so perfectly to create a Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Big Fish cinematic sense of wonder. In fact, it reminded me of a TV show called Pushing Daisies that had a very similar tone.

    Very well done for RJames! Every one of us wants to live to 187, so in a strange way, this quirky take relates to all of us. Pretty amazing when you consider it.

    Thanks for putting this together Josh!

  6. Rick, I’ve asked the CMO at Raymond James if he feels like responding.

  7. Great article, thanks Josh. I think this is a beautiful ad. After watching it I imagined they executed against a very smartly written brief that was speaking very intentionally to one audience: women.

    I bet they included some powerful stats like:

    1. The average American woman is expected to earn more than the average American male by 2028

    2. 51% of U.S. Private wealth is controlled by women

    3. Women account for over 50% of all stock ownership in the U.S.

    4. Women control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the U.S.

    Surveys show that women are under-served and mis-understood by most big financial institutions yet represent a huge potential market for their services. I think RJ has done their homework on this one.

    This spot takes a statistical reality — women live longer than men — and stretches it into an entertaining, aspirational story of a heroine who literally defies reality. It also subtly and not-so-subtly touches on some very relevant issues important to this audience: Personal and financial independence, career, family, passion, living a long meaningful life … and yes Downton Abbey for good measure! .

    Whether or not there is tangible ROI to be measured from this spot, high-fives to RJ for showing an emotional intelligence that will absolutely enhance their brand.

  8. I’d like to thank Josh for his thoughtful assessment, and as the CMO for Raymond James, I can confirm that we struggled with many of the reasons he outlined here. It was tempting to pursue a more conventional campaign, but we had faith in our agency’s (Martin Williams) understanding of our brand and what we believe makes us different as well as in their ability to execute on the concept of using financial planning “parables” to help us build our brand awareness. Perhaps just as important, we tested the concepts with clients and prospective clients and were surprised with how well they resonated.

    Rick, to address your question, we have been measuring our brand awareness and understanding for many years. We evaluate this by geography, demographics, competitors, and also by various constituents important to the firm. This particular ad is part of a larger campaign that began three years ago, and according to our research, it has been very effective in improving our overall awareness, with a particularly big impact on unaided awareness and awareness of advertising. In fact, because of its effectiveness in moving the ball against our branding objectives, the campaign actually tied for the top honor in the financial services category of the 2012 Effie competition (recognizing the most effective advertising efforts in the United States each year).

    Christian, your points around the importance of planning for “longevity risk” and how this particularly applies to women was the key insight behind this particular ad. Thanks for the insight and kudos.

    If you’d like to see other “financial planning fables” from Raymond James (including two more recent TV ads), check out our YouTube Channel.

  9. Great article, and i think there is nothing wrong with it.
    But don’t you think the commercial is a bit sad. If you become 150 years old, all your friends would have died, all your kids and maybe even your grand kids. so if you think about it, I don’t want to for that long.

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