AAG Finds Success with Selleck’s ‘Softer’ Approach

When reverse mortgage giant American Advisors Group announced actor Tom Selleck as its latest TV spokesman in 2016, the lender was filling a considerable void left by his predecessor, fellow actor and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson. But now, a year into the Selleck campaign, AAG says it’s finding success with the “Magnum, P.I.” and “Blue Bloods” star’s different approach.

While Thompson — perhaps most famous for his role as district attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law & Order” — had a more authoritative, direct approach, Selleck’s appeal has drawn from his initial skepticism about reverse mortgages, according to AAG’s chief creative officer Teague McGrath.

Show, don’t tell

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“Fred’s more of a statesman, and people felt like he was telling,” McGrath told RMD. “While Tom’s approach, intentionally on our part, takes a softer [stance].

In the ads, Selleck addresses the reverse mortgage’s checkered reputation head-on.

“I know what you’re thinking. I thought what you thought: some things are just too good to be true,” Selleck said in the opening seconds of his first spot for AAG. “Just like you, I thought reverse mortgages had to have some kind of catch — just a way for the banks to get your house, right?”

The Orange, Calif.-based lender continued that message with its most recent Selleck ad, in which the actor again raises the specter of “too good to be true,” but assures viewers that Home Equity Conversion Mortgages aren’t all that different from regular forward mortgages.

Part of the messaging evolution reflects Selleck’s actual personal stance on reverse mortgages, McGrath said.

“Tom has been thinking and wondering naturally, organically, as he’s become more involved with us and the industry,” McGrath said. “As he learns more, he actually has these real questions, and they’ve been really the basis that we’ve leveraged for the messaging itself.”

A lofty setting

Sharp-eyed viewers might note that the latest spot finds Selleck in the same Los Angeles loft apartment as the first ad, after a brief detour to a home for the second commercial in the series. While a spacious urban loft generally isn’t the target property type for most reverse mortgage advertisers, McGrath said the setting was engineered to grab viewers’ attention — and burnish Selleck’s bona fides as a trusted, independent voice.

“We didn’t want to make it look like Tom needed a reverse, and that he chose to get one when he didn’t need one,” McGrath said, acknowledging Selleck’s fame and wealth relative to the target consumer. “I wanted to separate the two conversations.”

Sticking with a spokesman

Though competitor One Reverse Mortgage recently began experimenting with a spokesman-free approach, McGrath said AAG continues to reap the benefits of a trusted pitchman. The company conducted focus-group studies in which the same script was presented with Selleck and without, and the spokesman version had a 40% to 50% better reception, McGrath said. 

The spots have been successful enough to warrant another ad in the pipeline, which McGrath said should be filmed within the next three to four months. And though he declined to disclose the cost of the ads, he said that AAG has elected to spend a significant amount on the production quality to help lend an air of legitimacy to the product and the industry as a whole.

“We want to make sure we set a high production quality and standard for both Tom and us, and the reverse space,” McGrath said. “I think we have to kind of elevate ourselves beyond the late-night, cheesy commercials for everyone, to make reverse mortgages look more professional.”

Written by Alex Spanko