Cents and nonsense: making what you will of financial services advertising


March Madness is upon us. No, not college hoops, but that last, frantic dash to preparing income tax returns (the one time of year I totally identify with Grover Norquist) and thinking maybe, just maybe, we the 99% need to get a little more organized about budgeting and financial planning.

Luckily, help is on the way. Investment houses, tax preparers and other advisors have heavied up their ad buys during this enervating season to exhort and encourage Americans to get smart about money. Here are four:

 H&R Block.  The granddaddy of all tax prep companies asserts that Americans fail to claim at least a billion dollars in deductions every year. To the sound of Peaches and Herb, this spot, one of several in a highly entertaining campaign, reunites taxpayers with their money by urging America to “Get your billion back!”

 E*trade puts an end to the talking baby‘s career by casting a singing cat as a sidekick and provoking a reaction that’s true to smart-aleck form: “I quit! Diane, bring the car around!” Also running:  fast-talking, hyper-fast-cut series of commercials that promises an end to endless transaction and management fees. Adding up to “less for us, more for you.”

 ING. What are we to make of this company whose original name was enigmatic enough but has now been inexplicably changed to Voya, “an abstract name coined from the word ‘voyage’…guiding customers on their journey to retirement readiness.” You could have fooled me. Looks like the company—for all its promised expertise in retirement planning (and signature orange money)–has been taking naming lessons from Hightail.

 Edward Jones. If you have to ask what it means, you probably can’t afford it. The  company boasts it has “over 12,000 investment advisors and $700bn assets under care” yet humbly claims that it “got big by not acting that way.” In other words, it has receptionists who answer phones and planners who put their cell phones in a drawer while meeting with clients or pick up donuts for a very early morning meeting. I guess even if you’re too big to fail, little things mean a lot but still, that’s not an especially compelling hook to hang a brand promise on. If they want me to show them the money, they need to show me a better selling argument.

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