SURVEY SAYS: Retirement Saving PSA

June 17, 2013 - At the PLANSPONSOR National Conference, one of the speakers discussed the need to promote saving for retirement, not just in employer-sponsored retirement plans but in general.

The session promoted the potential for the industry to come together and start a public service awareness (PSA) campaign for encouraging Americans to save. Last week, we asked NewsDash readers what they think a PSA for retirement saving should look like.

A clear majority of responding readers think the PSA should include more than one person (85.7%), have a positive spin (82.5%), be photographic (77.2%), show success (73.7%), include both women and men (77.2%), have a slogan (91.1%) and be a message about taking care of basic necessities in retirement (91.2%). Nine percent said the PSA should include one person, 17.5% indicated it should have a negative spin, 22.8% said it should be animated and 26.3% feel it should show failure. Nearly 2% said it should feature women, and 21.1% indicated gender doesn’t matter. Nearly nine percent said it should not have a slogan, and 8.8% feel the message should be about being able to afford luxuries in retirement.

Respondents were somewhat split about whether the PSA should be funny (42.9%) or serious (57.1%). When asked what the core message should be, respondents selected “retirement in general” (10.5%), a savings rate to prepare for retirement (33.3%), financial stability (29.8%) and being able to make choices in retirement (26.3%). Two-thirds felt the message should be narrow (i.e. focused on the right behavior to save enough for retirement) and one-third thought it should be broad (i.e. focused on increasing financial literacy). Sixty-one percent indicated the message should be concrete (i.e. you need to save 10%), while 39% said it should be directional (i.e. you need to save more).

Most readers who filled out a comment were positive about the PSA idea and shared some interesting ideas for it, but there were some who felt otherwise. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who made a very good point with: “Unfortunately, most people respond more to negative messages, in this case, pointing out the dire consequences of not savings as opposed to the joy of being financially sound in retirement. It’s the same as when you know you have to lose weight to look better or make your clothes fit better, but you don’t pay attention ‘til your doctor says you’re about to have a heart attack or diabetes. Negative consequences are the most impelling.”



I think side by side pictures of a person in front of the TV with a frozen dinner with one of a person enjoying a gourmet meal should do the trick.


It could be iconic - like the weeping Native American or Smokey the Bear. Save at LEAST 10%, your entire career. Images and stats of elderly who were not prepared, and are now at the mercy of relatives and government entitlements. Should be a tear jerker to make an impact- there are no "do-overs" when you're a senior!




Honestly, I think this is about as silly a notion as I have heard in a long time. Does anybody really watch PSAs? Does anybody change behaviors as a result? I remember the crying Indian, Smokey the Bear, etc. Didn't do anything but make a lot of ad guys very rich. People don't save because it isn't easy and/or they can't afford to. Who's looking to make money off THIS campaign, anyway?


Make it humorous, make it real, make it stand out as one of those commercials people remember...Super Bowl worthy! Aim at all ages, aim at parents teaching and kids learning, generations passing the message down the line. Remind us what American's are about...standing tall, together, and supporting ourselves...not expecting any government or charity to support us!!


I think they should show people who failed to save enough (or start early enough) to let 20-somethings know they need to start saving in their 20's rather than waiting until 40's. Unfortunately, I could be a poster child for that!


This is a great idea and more than just one approach should be used. Many of those in their 20's and 30's have a better concept of financial planning in general as they have seen the impact drastic market drops with the effect on their parents and grandparents. A funny, positive approach to a serious subject will probably go a lot farther than a serious one, but the core message should be repeated in a variety of ways to get the message across.


While the save for retirement message is very important, I think that hammering home the "debt reduction" message also could do a great deal to prepare people for retirement. People's lives have been transformed by successfully removing debt and in the process they learn the importance of saving for retirement.


People would save more if they made more. With wages having been stagnant for the last 30 odd years, it's no wonder people are struggling to be able to save enough for retirement.


Give them examples - Here's what you can expect from Social Security. If you've saved $100,000, $500,000, $750,000 here's what you might expect for monthly income.


Use analogies that ordinary people can relate to as opposed to industry terms no one understands. Approaches to help people feel like they can, rather than it's not possible. Saving $5 a month is better than saving nothing, instead of making it seem like if you don't save at least 10% you may as well not save at all. I'm so tired of the panic press "you won't have enough to retire" as if it's a new issue. I'm 47 and my parents didn't have enough to retire to a point where they could travel the world, but they didn't do that before they retired. They live on SS and military income, and do fine. Don't use people perceived to be rich by ordinary people - no golf course photos with husband and wife in polos, no sail boats - lower middle class people don't live that lifestyle before they retire, so they're not going to afterwards. Can you tell I'm passionate about it 😉


Example: An over simplified message showing a stool with 3 legs and a silver haired person sitting on top. Each leg is highlighted or named with "Pension", "Social Security", and "Savings/401(k)". The Saving leg is shortened or disappears and the silver haired person falls. Don't let this happen to you. Then some high level stats/averages about the importance of saving and how it has worked for successful middle class people. It is not hard to illustrate as long as the message is kept simple and is shown frequently. eg. Everyone has received the message that cigarettes are dangerous and cause cancer.


I think this is a great idea. The challenge will be defining the target audience and crafting the message to them. To me, it's the late-30s/early 40s crowd: old enough to care, and still enough time to act.


Verbatim (cont.)

Most folks don't have a clue as to how much $ it is going to take to just survive after retirement with the rising cost of living and cost of medical needs. Most have the mentality that "I'll think about that later" and then it's too late to save what you will actually need.


Scare tactics and hard dollar #s work best!


This is a big concept which requires a series of PSA's. With so many people still trying to get their heads above water, starting out with specific savings targets may be too overwhelming and turn people off. I think it should be a gradual education process that focuses on the fact that getting started is the most important first step. The amount doesn't matter at first. Changing behavior and showing that most people can do it (except for possibly the poorest Americans) is the most urgent message. Future PSAs can then focus on the concrete steps.


"Consider the alternative" would be my slogan. I indicated that I would use a negative spin, but I would see this done in a positive way. I think about the anti-drug PSAs and how a young adult is confronted with a potentially life altering decision. The message shows the alternative life that they could have chosen, then they snap to reality and make the positive decision -- being financially responsible. Fear is a powerful motivator!


I think specific references (10% saving, luxuries vs. necessities) risk missing people who are in the "other" category. If possible, including a variety of ethnicities, both genders, and even differing marital statuses (single, married [straight and same-sex]) would acknowledge the variety of people affected by this challenge.


Unfortunately, most people respond more to negative messages, in this case, pointing out the dire consequences of not savings as opposed to the joy of being financially sound in retirement. It's the same as when you know you have to lose weight to look better or make your clothes fit better, but you don't pay attention till your doctor says you're about to have a heart attack or diabetes. Negative consequences are the most impelling.


I agree that a PSA campaign would be beneficial, but the industry has to be VERY careful. There are critics of the current system whose mission is to get lawmakers to throw out the whole system and replace it completely. We know the current system works, it's being emulated throughout the world, and we can make it work better by getting people to take responsibility for themselves and save more. The campaign cannot be negative, as that will provide support to the system critics, and lawmakers that have bought their rhetoric. It must be positive, and it must be relatable. If the target savings percentage is 10 or 12 or even 15, the message should be about the importance of getting to that level and why.


While saving enough for retirement is an important issue across all groups it's especially critical for lower wage earners. If our organization is representative those with annual earnings under $45,000 should be considered as a target group


Good Luck with that, I've been in the business for 20 years and can't convince my 25 & 29 year-olds to join their respective plans.


I think the PSA needs to have several advertisements with different scenarios. Not necessarily negative or people will give up, but perhaps a situation where someone realizes they aren't saving enough and they have to change their habits to properly save. Another scenario can be a person who has saved enough. Not sure what would get people caring about it though. Everyone's worried about the now and there's such a sense of entitlement that I'm not sure everyone cares about retirement. Somehow we need to get them to care. It's a big undertaking but this is a first step.


Employees always say education is too broad and they don't know specifically what to do. Make it very easy to understand save 15%. Start today. Invest in 3 funds, Make it like a cook book very specific instructions. Then you too can go on a cruise, visit Hawaii, be a snow bird and have a winter home. Otherwise you and the cat can share a meal at home.


There are some examples of a PSA campaign on savings at



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.