Saved by Zero: Why Brokerage Firms Are Obsessed With ’80s Songs in Their Commercials

November 12, 2019, 9:30 PM UTC
PortraIt Of The Fixx
Fidelity has found a groove with commercials featuring The Fixx. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Paul Natkin—Getty Images

Have you noticed that financial-services commercials these days sound a lot like ‘80s night at the local club?

Well, you’re right. And there is good reason for it.

Take Fidelity Investments’ recent campaign announcing lowered account costs, part of the industry’s “race to the bottom” in fees. Zero online commissions, zero investment minimums, zero account fees—so which tunesmiths did the Boston-based money managers turn to, to get the message across?

Easy: “Saved By Zero,” the 1983 jam by British new wave band The Fixx.

That wasn’t a casual selection, but a very calculated one. Think it through: Which Americans are hitting their prime earning years right now, starting to inherit the vast wealth of their parents, and getting serious about managing their investments?

That would be those in their 40s and 50s, also known as Generation X, sandwiched (and often overlooked) between the Boomers and the Millennials. And which musical era do those investors remember fondly from their childhoods?

You got it—the ‘80s.

Fidelity knows this very well, which is why they have not only tapped The Fixx (not once, but twice), but other classic bands and songs from the era as well. Among them: OMD’s “If You Leave,” “A Message To You Rudy” by ska band The Specials, and “Always Something There To Remind Me” by Naked Eyes, among others.

“Our target audience loves hearing these songs,” says David Dintenfass, Fidelity’s chief marketing officer. “When they hear them, it gets them to pay attention. It reminds them of when they were first starting out in life—and now they are a bit older, and starting to reap the benefits of investing.”

In an oversaturated media world, the jukebox approach makes a lot of sense. The main challenge for marketers these days is the constant barrage of messages out there—on TV, radio, computers, videogames, smartphones, and every other possible medium.

One of the few ways to cut through all that noise, and actually grab an investor’s attention for a few seconds, is a catchy musical hook recalled from someone’s youth.

In the case of “Saved By Zero,” it was a deal struck between Fidelity and Sony/ATV, the world’s largest music publishing house, which owns the copyright to the song.

“Sit back and think about the audience that bankers and brokerages are going for right now,” says Brian Monaco, Sony/ATV’s president and global chief marketing officer. “It’s those who are building their nest eggs, and so it makes sense to play the music that really strikes a chord with them.”

In this case, Fidelity outlined what it was looking to achieve, Sony/ATV pitched a few tunes that would be a good match, and ensuing negotiations hinged on factors like campaign duration, the types of media involved, and the territory that would be targeted.

The band itself was consulted for approvals—they don’t want their tunes used to hawk something negative or controversial, after all—and then a deal was struck (terms were confidential, Monaco says).

Sometimes it’s the band and its era that is a good fit for a marketing campaign, sometimes it is song lyrics—and sometimes it’s both.

“That song was a close fit to what we were getting across, with our zero-expense ratio fund,” says Fidelity’s Dintenfass. “That was successful, so when we launched more funds like that a couple of months later, we turned to The Fixx again for ‘One Thing Leads To Another’. It’s pretty rare that you get a perfect follow-up song like that.”

Of course, ‘Saved By Zero” was only one deal among many. Out of the more than three million songs in the Sony/ATV catalog, roughly one-third of them are licensed out in any given year, Monaco says.

A prominent recent example: The movie “Yesterday,” where—after a mysterious global blackout—a street busker turns out to be one of the only people in the world who can remember Beatles songs, and becomes a global superstar. Without Sony/ATV’s stamp of approval, that movie doesn’t happen.

The one song Monaco feels most protective of: “Over the Rainbow,” the classic Judy Garland song from “The Wizard of Oz”. “It’s probably the number-one song in the whole catalog,” he says.

When it comes to appealing to budding investors, though, it is ‘80s tunes that are reigning supreme right now. So might you see even more financial ads peppered with the likes of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, or T’Pau, or Soft Cell? Absolutely.

“You will be seeing more popular tunes show up,” hints Dintenfass (personal fave ‘80s tune: U2’s ‘A Sort of Homecoming’). “We love the strategy.”

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