John Hancock Financial Services Inc.

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John Hancock Financial Services Inc.


John Hancock Place
Boston, Massachusetts 02117
Telephone: (617) 572-6000
Fax: (617) 572-9799
Web site:



NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company changed its name to John Hancock Financial Services Inc. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.

With assets of $62 billion, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company ranks among the nation's 15 largest life insurance companies. But the 136-year-old company also sells a growing number of investment management products and services for which it generally has not been recognized. In 1996 John Hancock was better known as an insurance company at a time when consumers were showing less interest in insurance and more interest in investments.

With its "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities" campaign, launched in 1996, the company sought to raise consumer awareness of its investment management expertise and to reinforce its position as a leading life insurance provider. Hancock also wanted to emphasize the need for financial self-reliance and to show consumers that it recognized their changing needs and desires.

For this high budget television campaign, the longstanding Hancock agency Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos created five spots (in both 60- and 30-second versions). Contrasting tender family moments with tough financial decisions, the spots addressed financial planning for various life situations, such as saving for college tuition and retirement and adjusting financially to single parenthood. Actress Sigourney Weaver supplied the voice-over, while the music was provided by Mark Knopfler, songwriter for the rock group Dire Straits. Tony Kaye of Tony Kaye & Partners, West Hollywood and London, directed the spots.

Shot in black and white, the campaign featured the same personal style that had distinguished Hancock's critically acclaimed "Real Life, Real Answers" campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The company launched the ads in April of 1996 with a media buy concentrated around the 1996 Summer Olympics (Hancock is a Worldwide Olympic Sponsor). The spots ("Triple Squeeze," "Shepherds," "Subway," "Alone," and "Freedom") took six months to create. Expense was not the first consideration; getting the appropriate feeling and message was.

"Triple Squeeze" opened with a few shots of well-dressed children and grandparents in a field, followed by a title card that read, "Your parents, your children, yourself." Video of a girl walking between an older man and woman gave way to another title card that completed the first. It read, "Who do you love the least?" The black and white video continued showing small children and elderly grandparents as Weaver's voice-over said, "You owe it to your parents … for they brought you into this world. You owe it to your children … for you did the same for them. But the day may arrive when both debts come to you. When you may have no choice but to borrow from your own retirement … to educate a child or care for a parent. And into whose eyes can you look and say you just can't help, for in both you will surely see your own?" All the spots ended with the tag line "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities," followed by the Hancock logo and website address.

The 60-second version of "Subway" started with shots of a flower and a man's profile superimposed on an electrical tower. The first title card read, "Will you want to work when you're 65?" Next the viewer saw a lone man standing in the middle of an empty downtown city street, then walking into a subway station as the voice-over began, "You will wake up one day and there will be no subways." A second title card, responding to the first, read, "Will you have to?" As the viewer watched a man alone at an airport, a plane taking off, and other stark business shots, the voice-over continued, "There will be no time sheets or corporate ladders to climb. You will find in that moment, life will change from a thing to be conquered to a time to be savored." Video for the second half of the ad, when retirement is discussed, showed a man in a business suit with bare feet and his pants rolled up as he wades in the water on a beach. The voice-over continued, "If retirement is a bridge to be crossed when we get there, then we must accept whatever lies in store for us. If it is one we must build, then let us begin."

Another spot opened with senior citizens wading in the ocean's surf as the voice-over explained that as an insurance company it is Hancock's business to predict how long people will live. The commercial continued by explaining that as a leading investment firm it is also Hancock's business to help people save enough money should they happen to live longer and prove the company's predictions wrong. Each spot used Knopfler's haunting music to heighten the emotional impact.


This campaign followed the long-running "Real Life, Real Solutions" campaign that debuted in 1985 and focused on John Hancock as an insurance provider. By 1996 management wanted to position the company as a provider not only of insurance but also of investment services.

Although Hancock's life insurance sales continued to grow throughout the 1990s, industry-wide sales were flat, having decreased by 3 percent in both 1994 and 1995, according to the market research trade group LIMRA International. Tillinghast-Towers Perrin reported that from 1970 to 1996 the life insurance industry's share of people's personal assets dropped from 20 percent to 14 percent. Many insurers dealt with this decline by offering fewer new insurance products and more wealth accumulation or investment-type products.

By 1997 annuities, mutual funds, and specialty products were providing more and more of the leading companies' revenue. According to LIMRA International, annuities and pensions increased to 66 percent of the industry's business, making accumulation products the dominant force in the life insurance industry.

Hancock's strategy was to offer a wide range of protection and investment products through many different distribution channels. Although the company was well recognized for life insurance products, Hill Holliday research revealed that the brand had lower recognition with its investment products (variable annuities and mutual funds). The company lacked credibility and awareness as an expert in the high interest investment arena.


The traditional Hancock market was middle income households with annual salaries of $35,000 and up. "Real Life, Real Answers" had aimed at this broad audience. The new campaign moved upscale, aiming for 16 million "Investment Enthusiasts,"—adults, ages 35-64, with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more and with assets or interest in both insurance and investments. Hancock's research suggested that these consumers faced a triple financial concern: saving for their children's education, caring for aging parents, and saving for their own retirements.

But unlike many other insurers, Hancock also sought to serve the needs of more modest, nontraditional households. For example, in 1997 the company used ads similar to but less costly than those in the "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities" campaign to target a narrow market segment—single parents. Hancock hired a small strategic planning firm to sift through its customer database, interview a range of potential customers, and use that research to fine tune both its products and its advertising. To these consumers, Hancock advertised lower-cost term life insurance that they could purchase over the telephone or the Internet.


The life insurance industry's largest company, Prudential, ran its "Be Your Own Rock" campaign during the same time period as the Hancock campaign. Some observers found the two similar. Both were shot in black and white, addressed major life questions, featured voice-overs, and urged people to actively confront their own financial realities. In one Prudential spot a man snowshoed through a mountain meadow as the voice-over said, "Somehow, at some deep level, we're responsible for what happens to us … I mean, you're the best investment you've got. You're the best investment you'll ever have." To streamline production, Prudential began producing commercials with its own internal advertising agency. Early in 1998 the company's crews produced 35 spots in a five month period.

Many other insurers—such as CIGNA, ReliaStar, and SunAmerica—began increasing their television advertising budgets in 1996 and 1997. The life insurance industry spent $255 million on network television spots in 1996—a 78 percent increase over 1995, according to Television Bureau of Advertising numbers. In 1998 Hancock planned to spend $15-20 million. While other insurance companies like Prudential, Metropolitan Life, and Northwestern were clearly Hancock's main competition, the company also considered the large mutual funds, brokerage houses, and banks to be competitors. They, too, were increasing ad spending. Janus, Fidelity Investments, American Century, and T. Rowe Price all began or greatly expanded their television advertising in 1997. Although John Hancock was outspent five to ten times by some insurance, investment, and brokerage competitors, the company believed its brand recognition was at parity with its higher spending competitors.


Jamie Mambro, Art Director for Hill Holliday, on John Hancock's "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities" campaign:

Q: Is insurance a difficult product to create ads for?

A: No, because it's dealing with a lot of fears and anxieties that everyone shares. It's pretty close to home.

Q: Did you need to be aware of the competition so you could distinguish John Hancock in this campaign?

A: Not really. John Hancock has been distinguished in this category for quite a while. They, in a way, have defined the category, at least emotionally.

Q: How did you start the campaign?

A: It started about a year before we worked on the creative. Our research showed what people's issues were. Two writers and myself took that research and began to talk among ourselves about the issues each one of us faced in terms of older parents who might need care … children who need college … retirement. The ideas came out of our own life experiences.

Q: Is there a core idea behind the campaign?

A: It centers around the issue of self-reliance. You have to rely on yourself to provide for your financial needs.

Q: Why two writers?

A: I went to both of them—both are excellent writers (Mike Sheehan and Ernie Schenck)—and asked them to write because we had six spots to do. I wanted the scripts to stay fresh. Sometimes when you have one writer on six scripts some scripts tend to be stronger than others.

Q: What happened to the sixth spot?

A: It never ran. The client didn't like the visual imagery or the music we chose. The great thing about the client, David D'Alessandro, is he really believes in powerful work. He wants to do things that he believes are going to make a mark for his company. He's really, for a lot of us, the best creative director we've ever had. He has great taste. Even though he might want to kill something we listen to him because he's the one who's been responsible for creating the work.

Q: Was there any additional pressure following up such a successful campaign as "Real Life, Real Solutions"?

A: Yes, in the beginning there was, but we let it work for us. No one's going to deny that "Real Life, Real Answers" is one of the greatest campaigns this agency's ever produced. But following that up was a challenge and something we looked forward to. It was a good kind of pressure.

One advantage John Hancock had was a close, 14-year relationship with Hill Holliday. The agency constantly monitored the financial services industry and had built up a comprehensive and proprietary research database.


Traditionally, life insurance advertising has emphasized the insurer's financial strength. Much like banks, insurance companies have tried to convey the sense of security and safety they offer to customers.

As it had with the "Real Life, Real Solutions" campaign, Hancock broke from the traditional and emphasized the need for financial self-reliance. "Much insurance advertising is still stuck in the world of Ozzie and Harriet," Fred Bertino, creative director at Hill Holliday, told Shoot magazine. "This is a campaign that's not afraid to tell you what's going on." The ads presented Hancock's empathy for its customers facing tough financial problems and then offered solutions and motivation for people to take action. Hancock believed consumers felt increasing anxiety about their ability to meet all their own and their family's financial responsibilities and that they needed and wanted to become more astute, self-sufficient, and focused on their financial future.

As with the previous campaign, Hancock sought to turn the camera around with these spots. The company strove to portray the consumer's perspective and to do so in a way that no other financial services company had done. Each spot attempted to reinforce what consumers deeply felt about their financial future and empower them to act.


Hill Holliday measured consumer viewpoints before the April 1996 launch and compared them with a sampling taken after the Olympics in August. Results showed increases in several investment attributes. There was a 38 percent increase in the number of consumers who saw Hancock as an investment industry leader; a 75 percent increase in people who thought Hancock was a smart, sophisticated company; and a 67 percent increase in consumers who thought the company offered flexible products that change with customers' needs.

Financially, Hancock did well in 1997. Net gain from operations hit a record $506 million. Assets under management increased 11 percent, to $116 billion. Life insurance sales increased while the industry as a whole continued to drop. Company sales of annuities and mutual funds, its two core investment products, rose 117 percent and 175 percent of goal, respectively.

Creatively the campaign was a huge success as well, garnering critical praise and numerous industry awards. The campaign earned the TV Grand Clio at the 38th annual Clio Awards on May 14th, 1997, as well as Silver and Bronze Lions at the 1997 Cannes International Film Festival. It also won a pair of Clios in the insurance ad and copywriting categories. The campaign captured Best of Show in the Northeast region's top creative award show, the Hatch Awards. The New England Broadcasting Association presented the campaign with its Gold Award and another Best of Show.


Dunlap, Bill. "When All the Stars Align: The Creative Minds Behind Award-Winning Spots Tell How They Came Together." Shoot June 20, 1997.

Goch, Lynna. "Don't Touch that Dial." Best's Review, Property-Casualty Insurance Edition, January 1998, p. 63.

McGavin, Patrick Z. "Vital and Innovative." Shoot March 21, 1997.

Reidy, Chris. "Pinpointing a Market." Boston Globe June 12, 1998, p. C4.

Savan, Leslie. "The Pause that Refrightens: Reality … What An Ad Concept." Village Voice June 11, 1996.

                                           Chris John Amorosino



In 1996 John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. (then called John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company), began updating its acclaimed "Real Life, Real Answers" campaign, which had been running since 1985 and which used real-life situations to point out the wide range of insurance and financial-services products the company offered. John Hancock adopted the tagline "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities" and extended the emphasis on the dramas ordinary people faced. In 2000 the company leveraged its sponsorship of the Olympic Games in Sydney and of Major League Baseball's World Series to launch a series of four television commercials running under the four-year-old tagline.

Created by long-time John Hancock agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopolous of Boston, the 2000 TV campaign built on the realism of the company's previous advertising by featuring families in moments of crisis or joy and continued to position John Hancock as a company equipped to respond to the financial needs of all such human situations. The campaign's most noteworthy spot featured a lesbian couple arriving in the United States with their newly adopted Asian baby.

The lesbian-themed spot, one of the first mainstream advertisements ever to showcase a same-sex relationship, generated the bulk of the media attention given to the campaign. Applauded by gay and lesbian advocacy groups and criticized by some conservatives, the commercial was altered after its first airing to make the nature of the relationship more ambiguous. John Hancock's research indicated an increase in brand awareness as a result of the campaign, which was estimated to cost $12 million, and the "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities" tagline was retained in subsequent advertising.


In the 1980s, like many of its competitors, John Hancock expanded beyond its primary business of life insurance to enter a broad range of financial-services business sectors. Intent on bolstering its core insurance business while simultaneously informing consumers of its wider portfolio of products and services, and likewise hoping to counteract the negative image most Americans had of insurance companies and agents, the company launched the "Real Life, Real Answers" campaign in 1985. Using print ads and TV spots, the campaign focused on people rather than on the company itself, employing story lines that revolved around the everyday financial difficulties and decisions faced by real people. The ads thereby positioned John Hancock as a sympathetic supplier of financial services that answered a variety of ordinary but critical needs. The "Real Life, Real Answers" campaign immediately generated critical acclaim for its realism and emotional force, and it translated into increased brand awareness and sales. The campaign won the Grand Prix at the Cannes International Advertising Awards Festival in its first year, ran for 10 years, and in 1998 was named one of the top 20 campaigns of the preceding 20 years by Adweek.

In 1996 John Hancock and Hill, Holliday undertook the task of replacing the by-then legendary campaign. The new campaign had simultaneously had to distinguish itself from "Real Life, Real Answers" and to deliver comparable doses of humanity and emotional charge. Using the updated tagline "Insurance for the Unexpected. Investments for the Opportunities," the new campaign similarly focused on ordinary people faced with difficult financial decisions. Though the execution of the new campaign differed in substantial ways from that of "Real Life," relying more on voice-overs than the docudrama scenarios that had characterized the long-running campaign, "Insurance for the Unexpected" worked to maintain the same brand image and market positioning John Hancock had been cultivating for the previous decade.

As part of its long-term branding strategy, John Hancock was a sponsor of high-profile sporting events, and it was a perennial sponsor of the Olympic Games. Like the "Real Life" campaign, "Insurance for the Unexpected" relied especially heavily on placement during Olympic television coverage. In 2000 John Hancock renewed its contract with the Olympics and entered into a five-year sponsorship with Major League Baseball, which made it the exclusive financial-services partner of the league.


The 2000 television campaign was designed to appeal to members of households earning more than $75,000 in annual income, but the spots were otherwise not meant to split consumers along traditional demographic lines. As Steve Burgay, who was then John Hancock's vice president of advertising and corporate communications, put it, "Our advertising has always tried to honestly and respectfully depict what's going on in the world. We don't target a segment. We speak to a need, an emotion, a financial uncertainty or opportunity." Above all, the campaign sought to communicate a human touch. Adweek columnist Barbara Lippert remarked on the same quality, which in her view distinguished the John Hancock ads from other, more specifically targeted campaigns of the time: "What's impressive about the campaign is that it mirrors the rhythms and dissonances of life. More than appealing to segments, it's human—and that's what connects."

By featuring ordinary people in situations with which a diverse range of middle-class Americans could identify, John Hancock sought to convince consumers that it understood their everyday issues and situations and had a suite of products to meet their needs. Like "Real Life" and previous incarnations of "Insurance for the Unexpected," the campaign put the focus on consumers. The individual scenes on which each commercial turned returned to the mode of the "Real Life" commercials, with a storytelling style reminiscent of short non-fiction films. There was no mention of the company or interruption in the drama, and at the close of each spot the John Hancock logo and tagline appeared silently on the screen. Such a gentle promotional style worked to send John Hancock's brand message of understanding and concern rather than to showcase particular products.


John Hancock's top competitors, Prudential Financial, Inc., and MetLife, Inc., were similarly trying to maintain their core business of life insurance while building consumer recognition of their increasingly diverse range of financial-services products. Prudential and MetLife were consistently among the most-recognized names among insurers, thanks to long-running ad campaigns that had become part of the fabric of American culture, but both were transitioning into new marketing phases during this time.

Prudential, thanks to its long-running "Get a Piece of the Rock" campaign, was a top-of-mind brand among consumers, but most Americans thought of the Rock, as the company was sometimes called, strictly as a provider of life insurance. In the middle and late 1990s Prudential struggled to capitalize on the equity of its Rock identity and spread awareness of its expanded financial-services capabilities. A well-regarded campaign created by the Minneapolis-based agency Fallon McElligott in 1996 aimed to update the company's image and support all of its business units by using the slogan "Be Your Own Rock." After Fallon and Prudential parted ways, the company moved its advertising in-house, before initiating separate account reviews for specific divisions like Prudential HealthCare and Prudential Investments. In the late 1990s and early 2000s a variety of specific campaigns ran on behalf of individual Prudential products and services, but the parent company did not embark on any noteworthy branding work.

MetLife likewise had enormous brand recognition thanks to its association with Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters and its long-time use of Snoopy as the company's "spokesbeagle." The slogan "Get Met, It Pays" was well known among consumers and intimately associated with the Peanuts characters, but as with Prudential and John Hancock, the company's established image was that of an insurer, despite its expansion in previous years. In 1999 MetLife shifted away from the Snoopy-based imagery and began featuring real people in its advertisements, though Snoopy continued to appear at the end of television commercials, dancing above the MetLife logo. The "Get Met, It Pays" tagline was replaced in a 2001 rebranding campaign with the slogan "Have you met life today?" The new campaign, intended to raise awareness of the company's financial-advising capabilities, was described by MetLife as a "celebration of life, beginnings and the financial freedom that leads to life significance."


After a preview during the women's qualifying events for gymnastics, the 2000 "Insurance for the Unexpected" campaign took advantage of John Hancock's renewal of its Olympic sponsorship agreement to make a network launch during the Sydney games, which were held in September 2000. The spots ran throughout the games before going on to appear again during that year's World Series, as part of the company's new five-year sponsorship agreement with Major League Baseball.

Each of the four commercials captured, as a John Hancock spokesman told Annuity Market News, "a moment of crisis, wonder or glory." The commercials made it clear, moreover, that such moments potentially created the need for financial products. By focusing on the stories being told rather than on the company, John Hancock intended to forge an emotional connection with consumers while informing them, through the range of situations featured in the ads, that it had products to meet the needs of a variety of situations ordinary people might encounter. John Hancock wanted to distinguish itself from companies claiming that their financial products would substantially alter customers' lives. Instead, the "Insurance for the Unexpected" campaign painted a picture of a company whose products were designed to support individuals' lives no matter what shape those lives took.


John Hancock aroused predictable protests from conservative groups in the wake of its "Immigration" spot, which featured lesbian partners bringing an adopted Asian child back to the United States, but the company also found itself under fire from international adoption advocates. The commercial did not specify the adopted child's ethnicity, but some advocates believed that the child was Chinese. Since China prohibited the adoption of its country's children by gay parents, the Joint Council on International Children's Services worried that the ad might provoke China to ban all adoption by unmarried parents.

Three of the spots set out to accomplish this task by using relatively mainstream imagery and characters and by focusing on moments of difficulty. "Tour" took as its subject a middle-aged man who was preparing to put his father in a nursing home and who became highly emotional when an employee took him on a tour of the facilities. "California" focused on a divorced couple in the midst of a whispered argument about the ex-husband's role in their son's life. The father insisted that he was doing enough just before announcing that he and his new companion were thinking of moving to California. "Saturday Night," meanwhile, introduced viewers to a single mother who had to rush home after a date with her boyfriend to avoid making the babysitter stay late. As a solution to such inconveniences, the boyfriend proposed that they get married, but the woman declared that she and her daughter could take care of themselves.

One of the four spots, however, represented a bold departure from themes traditionally broached in mainstream advertising, and it accordingly attracted far more attention than the other three, easily breaking through the clutter created by the many corporate heavyweights who were also advertising during the Olympics. Titled "Immigration," the spot showed two women in an airport marveling over their new Asian baby, with whom they had obviously just arrived in the United States. On the way to customs one of the women remarked that the other would be a "great mom," and the other replied, "So will you." The clear implication that the women were lesbian domestic partners, and the treatment of this fact as completely normal, made the commercial unique in mainstream marketing history. As Lippert said, "I can't remember any other national spot in ad history so effortlessly featuring homosexuals, except for the Ikea ad years back showing two gay men proving their commitment by buying a dining-room table." Predictably, the ad met with a substantial number of complaints, and after its first showing it was edited to make the nature of the women's relationship more open to interpretation. Most prominently, the "great mom" exchange was excised from the revised version. Explaining the change, John Hancock issued a statement saying, "People focused a great deal of their attention on what was going on between the adults. It was important to us to focus them, instead, on the real message of the spot, which is however a child comes into a family, that child is entitled to financial protection, and John Hancock can help."


Most of the media attention paid to the 2000 "Insurance for the Unexpected" campaign centered on the "Immigration" spot. Gay and lesbian advocacy groups were virtually unanimous in applauding the breakthrough treatment of homosexuality in the original version of the ad, but the revised version drew mixed reviews. Mike Wilke of the Gay Financial Network called the spot "one of the most honest, nonsensational looks at a same-sex couple in mainstream advertising ever to come along" but criticized John Hancock for "backpedaling away from it." Scott Seomin of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation applauded John Hancock and defended the revised version, saying that "it's a great ad even without the dialogue."

John Hancock's research both before and after the Olympics indicated an increase in brand recognition as a result of the 2000 "Insurance for the Unexpected" campaign. The company extended both the concept and the tagline of the campaign, modifying it to suit the marketplace but continuing to stress the same message. In 2004 John Hancock continued to emphasize real people and the company's potential role in their lives but focused a new campaign on children, returning the spotlight to its core life insurance business with the tagline "It's Not Your Life You Insure."


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Gianatasio, David. "Hancock Ads Take Some Chances." Adweek (New England ed.), August 14, 2000.

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――――――. "Hancock Returns to Olympics, Signs Major League Baseball." Best's Review, April 2000.

"Hancock's Ad Draws Fire." BestWire, September 19, 2000.

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Riedman, Patricia. "Reel Life, Reel Answers." Advertising Age's Creativity, September 1996.

Warner, Judy. "Mike Sheehan." Adweek (western ed.), February 10, 1997.

                                               Mark Lane

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John Hancock Financial Services Inc.

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