It is always useful, in whatever industry
employs you, to study the methods, the marketing
and the message of your contemporaries, competitors
and colleagues. (now that was a twister that was...)
I was doing just that the other day, perusing various
sites that purport to deliver annuities to consumers,
most of which are vapid, cookie cutter sites that
contain only a landing page along with the standard
"free annuity guide" to download in exchange for
your most coveted email address.
But I noticed something on even some of the more
detailed sites that actually contain videos, articles
and other substantive information. In between the doublespeak I noticed a certain subtle keystroke more than once or twice.
And it dawned on me that for some of these insurance purveyors, there is a part of the computer keyboard that their copywriters must find extremely useful in the marketing of their message.
In fact, without this particular keystroke, the spirit of their message would have to adjust substantially.
Surely you know what I am referencing !!
The Almighty Asterisk!
It's right above the "U" on my keyboard and it surely is one of the most coveted pieces of real estate on a copywriters keypad.
With the Magic of "Shift 8", a copywriter can craft a tantalizing message, even promising the sun, the moon and the stars and with full legal immunity, merely by placing this little snowflake (and I am going to enlarge it for dramatic purposes) right here:
and what the big print just gaveth upstairs, the little print doth ripped right out of your hungry hands downstairs....
So, what is my problem with this entirely legal manoever, so commonly used in the marketing of soup to nuts?
Well, I guess I just have a small problem with it in the business of annuities - and I am sorry in advance to all you loyal "Shift 8' ers" !
( hmm, I guess I could be called a "Shift 8 er, Hater". - I like that!)
Anyway, here is my beef:
1) Are you physically capable of reading the fine print?
I mean, you're an annuity prospect, you are probably 50, or 60, or 70 years of age and your eyesight is not as good as the young chap who put that fine print in the brochure. Surely you are under your own responsibility to read the fine print.... but....can you even physically do it?
I mean while you were reading the main message, everything was fine and you were getting the gist of it all, and then the writer suddenly suggested a really sizzling concept like an "8% lifetime return" and there was this little snowflake right beside the concept and...
(at this point you could have just pressed "shift and the "+" sign" to enlarge the font in order to read the fine print a few inches below, but you were born before 1955 and you're not that tech savvy.. )
So instead you had to get up and go into the bedroom and get your special reading glasses in order to read the fine print but by the time you got to the bedroom the Mrs. reminded you about your appointment with Dr. McCracken, your chiropractor, to see him at 3:00 pm this afternoon, and since you had forgotten about the appointment you then decided to call Dr. McCracken's fine young secretary to tell her that you are going to be a little late since you had entirely forgotten about the appointment. Then after you get off the phone with Dr. McCracken's secretary (who is very friendly and flirtatious), you now have this lingering feeling that you had something else you were supposed to be doing, but for the life of you, (maybe you had too much coffee this morning) - you simply cannot remember what it was.
Except there was this little seed planted, unbeknownst to you, in your cerebellum, about an 8% annuity rate, that is going to sprout - like an alfalfa sprout - at some (in) opportune time. And you may not know if it translates in your mind as true interest - or something else that the writer was talking about.
2) Did you remember to read the fine print?
Now, even the most Ambiguous Annuitants amongst us can forget to scroll south from time to time.
But, reading, by its very nature, is a linear process, and by that I mean that to fully understand a line of thought you must read from left to right, through the entire paragraph, like going from one end of a line to the other. Now, what often happens for many of us, is that by the time we have finished a certain paragraph, new "juices of thought" have already been stimulated so that we may forget the necessity of going back to the bottom of the page to read the respective * asterisk * that referenced a particular anecdote
that was mentioned 3, 6, or 9
sentences earlier. I am sure you
know what I am talking about,
although I did not consult any social
scientists for this piece.*
I hope you appreciated the
hypocrisy in that last sentence.
3) We are dealing with a pretty
important subject here, your $$$,
sometimes even the savings that
physically represents the fruit of a
lifetime of work and service.
We are not:
a) Selling automobiles and telling
you the "miles per gallon" with a curious " * " at the end of the sentence. - or -
b) Selling a weight loss formula with a 30 day money back guarantee that you will lose "X" amount of weight by such and such a date.... and then comes the good old " * " at the end of the sentence.
etc, etc, etc..
after all this is America, where Capitalism is enshrined in everything we do...
But, really, No, no, no..not in my business, please....it just does not seem good.
We, us, and by us, I mean us insurance agents, we are offering something much more serious aren't we?
I mean you are laying down your life for 40 years as a butcher, baker or candle stick maker, and then you just plop the fruit of all those years of butchering, baking and candlestick making onto the desk of the nicest looking young man with the shiniest of desks who has this beautiful glow about him emanating from above, ......and that wondrous glow is coming from the most glorious of white snowflakes above him, oh, hang on, it's that, oh my goodness, don't tell me, but it's another....
SHIFT 8! *
Eee gads, there it is again! There is simply no escape!
or..... I say, is there?
Let's digress slightly...
Wikipedia has a fascinating discussion on the asterisk and it's history and uses.
and it states that one of the labels computer scientists often informally use when referencing an asterisk is the word "splat".
To prove my point here all I can say is - "how convenient."
Ironically, I too have personally used this word, "splat", when referencing the past tense of "spit" as it rests on a blacktop playground, or sometimes I have used it for the past tense of what a bird may have jettisoned onto my windshield, or, come to think of it, countless other dishonorable functions of existence.
And I might suggest you consider thinking about the * in the same manner, especially when it comes to the marketing of annuities (since this is the only industry I can speak on behalf of).
In fact, if you follow my advice here, I would first recommend you purchase a spitoon..these fellows sell them: http://www.mudjug.com/
And when you see an * in an advertisement for annuities, promising 8% or 9% something or other, instantly launch away with the best sample you can muster into that shiny new spitoon, because if you don't, someday you're gonna wish you did.
In fact, if you don't use the spitoon today, you're gonna use it tomorrow.
Hmm, now there's a slogan for a sideways sales prctice.
So, that's why, I have vowed to make AnnuityAmbiguity an :
"Asterisk - Free Zone"
Kind of like those cities you drive into that say "Nuclear
"Yes siree, In these here parts pardner, we are
Asterisk-Free, yes, siree! if you dare use one of them
round here young city slicker, you're gonna have to leave!"
Now if this means I get less annuity business, gosh darn it, I
suppose I can live with that.
After all, I am looking for informed clients, not
necessarily brainiacs, but just informed ones.
Or at least skeptics, kind of like I am.
And this should help with my Catholic guilt issue. A lifetime of the stuff can make one pretty nervous in fact. Even today, 40 years later, if my pinky should venture too close to the "8" key, my hand tends to tremble slightly.
So I'll just go ahead and make "Shift 8" pure contraband from this point.
Now....a Major Caveat here! I am not slamming the efficacy and usefulness of the Annuity per se, OBVIOUSLY, since I make a living offering them to you!
But I am commenting on how they are improperly marketed, of course.
And, by the way, I could have said - what I just said above - by merely putting an asterisk somewhere..
But I can't!
I am in an "Asterisk - Free Zone !"
Oh, I have been set free!
So, in Conclusion, I am hoping you feel the same way.
Jim, The "Shift 8'er hater" !