Is your employees’ inner chimp the key to encouraging pension contributions?

To persuade workers to save into a pension, organisations need to tap into their emotive side, argues Johanna Nelson

The marketing world has long accepted that tapping into people’s emotions sells products and services.

According to psychiatrist Steve Peters, author of the 2012 bestseller The Chimp Paradox, our emotional impulses often trump our reason. In most scenarios, we react emotionally first – and only then, if we let it, does logic take over.

He argues the ‘chimp’ side of our brain is the emotional, irrational side. And the ‘human’ side of our brain is the sensible, logical side. However, they are not equal. Appealing to people’s inner ‘chimp’ can give marketing campaigns the edge.

Arguably, the same applies to pensions marketing. Tapping into people’s emotions could help ‘sell’ pensions to employees. Using emotion, employers can also improve how people engage with their retirement and savings and help change their behaviour to encourage greater saving. Let’s talk about how. 

First, let’s consider one of the world’s most well-known brands, Coca-Cola. 

Coca-Cola doesn’t market itself by solely emphasising the taste or content of its drinks. Instead, it plays heavily on people’s emotions. In 2011, Coca-Cola started putting people’s names on bottles and cans of Coke. 

While the rational consumer knew this was a marketing gimmick and the product was the same as always, the campaign was a major success. Some people still have their empty bottles sitting on a shelf because their name is printed on the plastic wrapper. 

Senior brand activation manager Chris Ross says the reason this campaign worked so well is because it took a global brand and “made it personal to consumers”. People felt excitement seeing their name; it engendered a sense of belonging as if they were part of the Coke family. People shared bottles with friends’ names on them, which awakened feelings of connection and community. It was simply an emotional marketing tactic. 

Other campaigns use fear to illicit a response. Ideally, people shouldn’t be scared into submission but made to feel positive about pension saving.

That said, some of the most effective public information campaigns have highlighted miserable outcomes – take the drink-driving and ‘Think Bike’ road safety campaigns, for example.

Equally, employers could highlight the pitfalls of not saving by including a range of forecasts in annual statements, together with a forecast of predicted retirement savings based on someone’s current saving patterns. A separate forecast could show what retirement income is likely to be if contributions are stopped or reduced. That might make people keep their existing contributions or even up them. Ideal. 

Taking it a step further, what if employers sent statements to employees who are not participating in their pension schemes too? The figures could show just what they are facing in retirement if they fail to start saving. 

Employers could spell out what kind of lifestyle someone with a minimal pension can expect, as well as the difference made by every extra hundred pounds saved. 

They could ask questions such as, with a minimal pension would they still be able to run a car? Would they be able to maintain their home? What would happen if their basic needs suddenly became luxury items? The more vivid the scenarios, the more emotional the campaign.

Unfortunately for most people, pensions are dull. They shouldn’t be, of course – saving for retirement is one of the biggest financial actions someone will take. 

But the jargon, the legalese and the administration that comes with pensions can be boring. Add in people’s reluctance to think about things that might be nearly half a century away, it’s easy to understand why it can be so hard to engage people with pensions. Pensions are also technical with rules and regulations, giving pensions communication the tendency to be bland and technical too.

While pensions doesn’t seem to be an emotive subject initially, it is. How much pension people have at retirement will affect their entire lifestyle, dictating the kind of home they live in, the car they drive and where they holiday. 

To make a greater impact, companies must be bolder with their communications and encourage people to save more. Is it time to awaken people’s inner – emotional – chimp? 

Johanna Nelson is associate director, communications at Punter Southall Aspire