Good Morning, You’re Gonna Die

Do I have your attention? … Did I also kind of tick you off? The question is, when it comes to your marketing, is the one worth the other? I don’t think my ride to work is a good time to talk about death. Yet there death was, splayed across two ads on my train in yesterday.

Do I have your attention? … Did I also kind of tick you off?

The question is: Is the one worth the other?

This is a rude headline, no doubt, and I’m sorry for that. It’s not the kind of thing you want to see first thing in the morning, but at least we all know this is a place to talk about marketing (today, the death is just a side effect).

I don’t think my train ride to work is a good time to talk about death. It’s a long commute, I’m usually proofing our e-newsletter, answering emails, thinking about what we have to do that day and/or zoning out to music.

Yet there death was, splayed across two ads on my train to work yesterday:

Haven life isurance asteroid death ad
Haven Life’s idea of polite morning conversation. The other ad told you how many people died on your birthday. (Spoiler alert: A lot!)

This is Haven Life, and its campaign to get you talking about death and life insurance. It’s supposed to be a conversation starter, and it was: I turned to the woman in the seat next to me and said, “Well, I’m not buying insurance from those guys!”

Chewed Out
“Whoever’s responsible should be fired immediately!”

Tactics vs. Tact
Every marketer needs to break through the noise to get their ads read and remembered. Most of us have, at one time or another, crossed the line trying to do that. (Like when we called all of our subscribers “Cheap Bastards” in a subject line …)

In fact, Haven was created by insurance giant MassMutual specifically to break through to people who don’t think they need life insurance: Millennials. They’ve launched several campaigns designed to make it “easier for people to talk about death,” including branding September “Life Insurance Awareness Month.”

I respect the bold plan to get young people who are starting families to talk about death and responsibility. But this had the wrong impact on me.

I don’t want to talk about death on the train (a ride which, by the way, takes me through this curve twice a day). That goes for planes and automobiles, too. … unless I’m listening to Chris Rock (NSFW):

So that’s my way of thinking about this. What’s yours? Is this a successful advertisement (it did get me to do some Googling about Haven and write a few hundred words), or do you agree with me that it’s out of place on the morning commute?

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

21 thoughts on “Good Morning, You’re Gonna Die”

  1. Thorin – I love your rant. Thanks for sharing. I like the jolt of the ads. Like a strong cuuppa Joe on the morning train. Will I buy the insurance? Prolly not. But, I admire the courage behind the ad. I also like how they got you to go viral with it. Because of your subject line, a colleague passed it on to me. Nice work all around.

    1. Thank you! It’s nice of you to say that. This is probably the first post I’ve done with a comedy slant since The War on Beards.

  2. One of the most successful direct mail promotions ever was a black digest with this headline in big, bold, bright type: READ THIS OR DIE

    1. One that was probably almost as good was the cover of a satiric magazine which had a hand holding a pistol pointing at the head of a very scared dog. The headline: “If you don’t buy this magazine, we shoot the dog.” It was a sellout.

  3. Isn’t the effectiveness of the ad in measurable terms ($$$) more important? If the ad brought in 2.5M leads and $50M of new business, does it matter if it bums some people out? The ad has a number of ‘soft’ touches, like cartoons instead of actual pictures of hearses and funerals, to avoid the ‘in your face’ approach. There will always be critics of an ad or campaign. The only true measure of an ad needs to be money. Everything else, including just leads, is fluff.

    1. I was thinking about that. That’s what Denny always meant when he said “I don’t judge good direct mail, it judges me.”

      But there’s another factor to consider that isn’t so easy to measure: Opportunity cost.

      Now, Haven is a pretty new company trying to break into a mostly virgin market. So for them, the immediate gain in business is probably worth a pretty high opportunity cost in future business (since they won’t have future business anyway if they can’t win new business today).

      But I think there’s limits to that based on your business situation. If you have longstanding customers who might be turned off (Heather’s piece on Land’s End earlier this week is a great example) then the opportunity cost is a lot higher and more real.

      So I don’t think the sales tell the whole story. A profitable campaign that loses future business is a Pyrrhic victory.

      1. Thorin- a very well thought out reply. As soon as you can measure the ‘opportunity cost’ however, you have identified a different market!! You cannot precisely measure what you did not get. For long established companies, I think your point is more applicable. For a start-up? Make the splash! If you’re not annoying someone with your advertising, chances are you are not interesting to very many people either… Have a super day and thanks for taking the time to write the original post! Mark

  4. I had several reactions. First was “oh another idiot trying to get me to read his message” But you did get me to scroll down 4 articles to click through and read your Blog. Then I agreed with you that it was rather in poor taste on a train ride to bring up death. But again as i thought about it life insurance is pretty dull and their campaign to get the millenials attention is brilliant. Why because it makes you think about something you don’t normally want to think about. This Sunday my buddy died of a heart attack at 42. It was shocking, sad and sudden without warning. And has happened to everyone of us….death is the shadow of life.

    1. Sounds like once I got your attention, you stuck around for the whole ride. I imagine that’s what they’re hoping for too.

      And I’m sorry about your friend.

  5. far as breaking through the noise, I think both your email subject line and the ad does it’s intended job. Yes, it will offend some, or irritate others, but nowadays if you use any sort of in your face marketing you’re almost guaranteed to bother someone. The real question is, does it generate any measurable results, other than just buzz? I’m guessing this is part of a bigger integrated campaign. But I just wanted to throw in my two cents that both as a consumer of Life Insurance and a direct marketer I like the ad. I find the ad both matter of fact and sort of funny. Yes, it’s 100% guaranteed that we are all going to expire someday. Many are uncomfortable with the thought of such things and as such they don’t take action to make sure that they’re insured and that their family or expenses are taken care of.

    1. Thank you. They are definitely trying to convert through multiple channels, so this is mostly about making an initial brand impression (although it does have a call to action). That link for Insurance Awareness Month gives you a better idea of their integrated content strategy.

  6. Out of place for you, Thorin but unless these guys are idiots, not for everyone.

    The best insurance ad I’ve ever seen was run by Investors’ Overaseas Service, the company that put its founder Bernie Cornfeld in a Swiss jail where, if he stood on tip toes, he could see his chateau. (Swiss humor!) The company sold an insurance linked mutual fund and the ad, written by Charles Saatchi said simply (and for most people truly):


    What would be a good time of day to view that billboard?

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