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Spreading the Good Word

New York Life, the largest mutual life insurance company in the U.S., last month launched a new ad campaign using TV to reach a broad audience. The company plans to spend $20 million over the rest of the year. Liz McCarthy, senior VP in charge of advertising and branding strategy, tells B&C business editor Jon Lafayette how the money is being spent and what the company is trying to accomplish. An edited transcript follows.

What message are you getting across?
The theme line for the campaign is “Keep Good Going.†The idea is that the products and services that New York Life offers, and probably most particularly the kind of personalized planning that our agents help people do, is really designed to help people perpetuate what’s good in their own lives. [That includes] protecting their families in the case of a death, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also preparing for their retirement, leaving a legacy, financial and otherwise, to people who come after them.

What’s the target audience you’re trying to reach?
We’re very, very broad because of the full range of products and services that we offer. We really target anyone over the age of 25, but our core demographic is probably 30-60. But because we offer income solutions in retirement, that is skewing older all the time as the American population is skewing older. Unlike a lot of our competitors, New York Life maintains a core focus on the middle [income] market. A lot of our competitors have moved up-market and focus almost exclusively on affluent consumers. We’re really committed to the middle market also. So it’s a very broad demographic that we’re targeting with this. And that’s why it’s an integrated campaign that has TV, print, digital, social, all the normal components.

With such a broad target, does that make TV a good vehicle for this message?
It definitely does. As we look at the TV market and we try to choose the best vehicles for it, we’re looking for places where families might be together watching television. That’s hard. In my house we all have our TV, each tuned to our own channel. And the few things that we watch together, sports has been the one place you could count on that, and sports continues to be a key piece of our media puzzle. We’re looking for places where not only might family members be gathered together, but where they’re receptive to a message about goodness. We’re looking to really pulse up our media plans around times of year like the holidays, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. We’ll be doing a lot of spending on Thanksgiving and other holidays. We have a significant spend in cable as well around food and cooking channels on the Scripps Networks where people are sort of gathered, putting together big family meals. And we’re trying to align our media spend not with our strategy but with our message.

Is spending on TV going to be up?
Yes, up. I can’t give you an exact number, but we’ve allocated about $20 million for our launch period across all media. Because we have a very broad demographic, TV is a very core part, and will remain a core part, of our digital spend. We’re ramping up digital and probably staying fairly flat in print.

You mentioned food shows. Are there other types of programming that mesh with your campaign?
One of the things that we’ve done quite successfully over the past several years is to look for opportunities to integrate our advertising into the content itself. In sports, we have a deal with SEC football on CBS and so our logo shows up on the first-down marker. Those are things people can’t TiVo through, and sports is obviously something people are less likely to TiVo through. We’ve done something over the past few years in baseball where when we were running with a real security message after the financial crisis, we came up with this promotion about being safe and secure when somebody would be safe at second or third when they’d slide in on a close play. So we continue to look for those types of integrations. And some of the more lifestyle-type programming offers opportunities to do vignettes that are tied to some of the shows. For instance, we’re looking at vignettes around family recipes, passing down your best family recipes on Food Network. On some of our sports programming on ESPN, we have vignettes about how athletes are with their own families and good-news moments that are relevant to where people are when they’re watching these programs.

Have you found that networks are being more accommodating in terms of finding ways to fit your messages in closer to content?
Yes, we have; with our media-buying agency TargetCast we've been quite creative, and we've found the networks are increasingly creative in putting deals together. Of course that's because all of them offer cross-platform buys now too, so some of those vignette-type things that I was talking about before, they might not be on-air, but they might be online, and it just gives us another way to find those good cross-promotion opportunities that people are going to find when they're in the mood to hear that kind of message.

In an integrated campaign, what media are you using beyond TV?
We have a fairly robust outdoor program-billboards-because it's a very visual campaign. We're ramping up our digital and online presence and social, so the concept behind our print and digital campaign is what we call life lessons. They are the most important things in your life you learned from somebody and those are the core messages that you want to pass down to the people you care about. Those usually lend themselves to video, so we have a series of these little life-lesson videos online now and we're already getting submissions from people who want to share their families' life-lesson stories with us, so this is showing promise to be a very viral campaign. So digital and social are a major component of our buy.

Are you using TV to reinforce the digital and to encourage people to submit user-generated content?
At the moment, they're a little bit distinct. When we first began working the TV campaign we recognized that until we established this idea that New York Life helps you perpetuate good, the individual life lessons wouldn't make a lot of sense. They'd be nice stories but they wouldn't make a lot of sense tying to New York Life's value proposition and so the first two TV spots that we produced, we call them our anthem spots. They're more designed to set up that premise of ‘Keep Good Going.', We anticipate probably in the second half of next year that we will begin to add individual life-lesson stories to our television mix built on what we're already starting online.

At that point will you be running the URL to take people to where they can contribute their own stories?
Probably not, because it's pretty simple. It's It's my personal opinion that increasingly, consumers don't need a URL call to action to do things. We all live on multiple screens at the same time. When I watch TV with my family, somebody's got an iPad, somebody's got an iPhone, somebody's on their laptop and we're Googling what's going on on TV and, who's the voice in that commercial, and, I remember that ad-it reminds me of another one, what was that? I think people are intuitive about just going to websites now.

How will you measure the effectiveness of this campaign?
It's primarily a brand campaign, not a sales campaign, so obviously sales is the ultimate barometer of whether you're getting through to people. We have fairly robust brand tracking in place and we'll be looking at that, not only to see if our traditional measures like unaided brand awareness go up, but very specifically the kind of attributes that people affiliate with New York Life. Right now there is very, very little differentiation in the life insurance category and financial services as a whole. We're all perceived to be conservative, strong, and there's very little in terms of more human attributes. We're really hoping that we get movement and we track on these kinds of attributes like: understands people like me, shares my values, a good company. Obviously, digital gives us the ability to track much more specifically what kind of engagement we have on our Facebook page, how many submissions of stories we get. Those things are more anecdotal but very telling indicators.

Are there ways to tell how much bang for the buck you're getting from individual TV properties?
We track reach, GRPs, all the normal metrics about how different buys are performing. But again, the cross-platform stuff gives us a much better way to see if people are engaging with it. We can tell if they've watched the ad, but if they then come to our website and engage with us or go to our Facebook page and engage with us on Twitter we can easily track that back to the TV it's affiliated with. An interesting way that we've seen an ability to track the effectiveness of our TV spend is hits on our website vs. where our ads are appearing. There tends to be a very close correlation so we can tell-particularly if it's a high-profile ad buy, a football game or something like that-we can track the traffic to our website and that gives us an immediate measure of engagement.

Any surprises, something that did better than expected, or not as well as you thought it would?
Some things are sort of happy surprises. We have a sponsorship deal with the NHL on TV that we sponsor overtime. And when a bunch of key games, particularly in the playoffs, went into overtime, it was just a pretty dramatic end of the season; we got great lift from that. Similarly, we were a sponsor of the Big East basketball tournament and again overtime coverage, and so we got some great spikes from that. Sports has been our most consistent deliverer of outsized returns.

So just after a really exciting ball game, people will go to your website?
Yes; they really do. They see our ad. They see our logo and we get a spike in traffic to our website.

Are there things that media vendors can do that can help you get your message out in new and effective ways? Are they being more helpful?
I would say it really kind of mirrors what we're doing with our consumers, which is media properties historically have done just what we did, they talk about themselves, and they say what they do and what they can deliver. And increasingly, we're all demanding customized solutions. Don't talk about you, talk to me about what you can do for me. And I think that's the trend that I've seen increase every year. People are being more creative. The sales reps are less coming out and telling their corporate stories but more coming out doing some research about the brand and our goals and putting together customized ideas. We might not end up buying that idea, but engaging us in those creative, "how could we work together" solutions, is really the most value added. Particularly when then can offer that across multiple channels or multiple media, incredibly valuable.

How's technology affecting your approach to marketing and media?
What doesn't technology affect? Like everybody else, recognizing the need to be consistent and reinforcing across all technology platforms, the ability to measure so much more and so much faster so that we can be much more responsive, particularly digital, but even television, you don't have to wait very [long] for results on how a campaign is doing so we can be more responsive in our buy. So that means in general we keep a larger share of our media spend for opportunistic buys, rather than in upfront, because we're able to capitalize on that as best we can. Social is changing everyone. That Facebook thing, I think it's going to catch on. So again, the story that we're trying to tell, our ‘Keep Good Going' and life-lesson stories, is an emotional appeal, so we think that social and digital will be an increasing part of our story for the long term.

You've advertised for a long time. What happened to your former slogan, the company you keep?
That's still our corporate tagline. We're not doing it in the first round of ads in this campaign because we are trying to establish this new theme of Keep Good Going and we didn't want competing sound bites in the ads, but we still use that heavily internally and we'll very likely return to it in advertising at some point.

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