‘Go back to being authentic’: How 150-year-old Prudential Financial wants to maintain brand relevance

It’s no secret that the marketing landscape is always changing. For many in the industry, the events and overall unpredictability of 2020 proved to be a catalyst for even more change, pushing brands both big and small to adopt more flexible marketing strategies.

And for Prudential, a nearly 150-year-old financial brand, there’s the matter of maintaining relevance while simultaneously staying ahead of the curve. It’s a balance Richard Parkinson has been trying to strike since being appointed to the role of chief brand officer back in April. As a legacy brand, Prudential is shifting its gears, reallocating ad dollars to invest in more targeted digital media channels and multicultural media. It’s a move Parkinson hopes will not only maintain the brand’s relevance but also introduce it to new, younger audiences.

Digiday caught up with Parkinson to talk through Prudential’s changing strategy, its latest campaign and what’s next for the brand.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The way people interact with brands is changing. How does that impact Prudential’s media mix?

Fundamentally, we look to reach our target audiences where and how they spend their time with the media, like every brand. We look at it through research, audience composition as well as performance. What we’re seeing is we actually need to lean more into the cultural moments and live events, particularly when it comes to television. With some of our other target audiences, particularly the younger end, we rely on less traditional media channels. While we’ll still get the messages in front of them through the TV buys with ESPN, TBS, NFL Network and NHL games, we’ve seen our audiences are migrating to digital. And that’s where we have to be. And we also have to be authentic in those channels. Print and out-of-home has definitely declined. But it’s those live events and being relevant on social, particularly with a brand like ours, that we’re looking forward to.

As society opens up, it’s clear that out-of-home will still have a part to play. It may not be the biggest part as we go [forward] because people consume media in a different way. With our print executions, you’ll find that we go into more branded content, to be partners rather than just placing ads, being more relevant and authentic to our audiences.

Prudential recently announced plans to invest more in people of color-owned and multicultural media. Talk about that.

We’re investing a lot into minority-owned media as well as multicultural media, those that have a very strong editorial voice that those communities look up to and find as a trusted source. With those strategic partnerships, with that type of media, we’re not just looking at banner ads. It’s actually getting involved in those communities, playing a part in those communities. We have to go back to being authentic. There is absolutely no point in turning up and spending on an ad. It doesn’t work. Audiences see through that immediately. [According to a spokesperson for the brand, those efforts include a partnership with Black Enterprise magazine, a branded content program with Essence magazine and television spots in BET channel’s programming throughout this year and next.]

Any plans for getting a legacy brand like Prudential in front of new audiences, especially younger audiences?

The creators of today, on TikTok or Instagram, they’re super engaging and brands have a huge amount to learn from that. We need to tell those stories in a relevant and exciting way that makes us relevant in their lives. Depending on the audience, we may skew slightly older for Facebook. If it’s younger, we may skew more toward Instagram or TikTok. While we’ve got to keep one eye on where our audiences are consuming their media, in particular on social, and who they’re looking toward, we also have to keep our eye on the future — the new creators that are coming on board, new platforms. Is it going to be right for our audiences? Is it going to be authentic or are we just showing up? If we’re just showing up, we shouldn’t be doing it.

What does this new audience direction mean in terms of how you do your job?

People think they know Prudential and I don’t think they do. My job is to tell the stories that are relevant to the audience in the way that they want to consume their media, that shows this nearly 150-year-old brand is relevant to them now and will be in the future. We want to be around for the next 150 years. I want to know that the longevity of the brand lives on. It’s not just about today and how we consume media today. For a chief brand officer like myself, it’s about how the media landscape is changing, how we can show up in new channels and be authentic, and how a 150-year-old brand can be relevant. That’s what’s driving my mission, to ensure that the brand remains relevant and has that strength going forward so people know they can rely on us. 


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