HomeEquity Bank turns to a well-known newsman in new campaign

Who: HomeEquity Bank, with Zulu Alpha Kilo for creative and strategy and ZuluBot for production. OMD Canada for media.

What: “Peter Mansbridge, In Conversation,” a new content series in which the former anchor of CBC’s The National talks with HomeEquity Bank representatives to debunk myths and misconceptions about the company’s CHIP Reverse Mortgage.

“Peter Mansbridge has been trusted by millions of Canadians to deliver thoughtful, unbiased journalism,” said David Tremblay, business group director with Zulu Alpha Kilo. “Over multiple decades, his voice became as recognizable as his no holds barred interview style.”

When & Where: The campaign is set to run throughout the year, with four episodes in total running exclusively on HomeEquity Bank’s Facebook page. It is a complement to the “Conversation Stoppers” campaign, featuring Canadian actress Jayne Eastwood in humorous TV spots delivering the message about reverse mortgages (a new spot in that campaign is breaking soon).

Why: Reverse mortgages, which allow Canadians 55+ to take out a loan secured against the value of their home, have been gaining in popularity in recent years. According to a recent report by MortgageBrokerNews.ca, Canada’s reverse mortgage debt passed $4.4 billion in 2020, up from 12.5% the previous year. (The report says they have increasingly become a tool for older parents to help their children with a down payment on a home.)

But as with any financial services product, you don’t have to look too hard to find criticism and debate about whether they’re beneficial or a bad idea.

Yvonne Ziomecki, executive vice-president of marketing and CMO at HomeEquity Bank, says the goal is to address the “misinformation and challenges” that have arisen around reverse mortgages by using one of the country’s most trusted personalities. As the longtime anchor of CBC’s flagship news program, Mansbridge has both recognition and credibility among the older audiences targeted by HomeEquity Bank.

“As former chief correspondent and anchor of CBC’s The National, Peter Mansbridge has been trusted by millions of Canadians to deliver thoughtful, unbiased journalism,” said Tremblay. “Over multiple decades, his voice became as recognizable as his no holds barred interview style.”

How: The campaign follows the reverse mortgage marketing playbook by putting forward a trusted figure to talk about the product, explain how it works, and hopefully allay any fears and/or uncertainty surrounding the product. In this case, it’s a series of videos with Mansbridge in conversation with one or both of Ziomecki and HomeEquity Bank president and CEO Steve Ranson.

The series works to establish credibility early, with Mansbridge pointing out that the HomeEquity Bank executives were not given the news anchor’s questions beforehand. In the first nine-minute episode, Mansbridge asks Ranson to address specific “fact” or “fiction” questions around reverse questions—such as that HomeEquity Bank is not regulated like Canada’s big banks (false); its interest rates are higher (true); or that you could lose your home with a reverse mortgage (a persistent myth that’s “definitely not true,” says Ranson).

“Sometimes the solution isn’t advertising,” said Zulu Alpha Kilo’s executive creative director, Brian Murray of the new work. “We wanted to address the tough questions head on. And who better than Peter Mansbridge to ask them?”

“There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding reverse mortgages in general. Through this conversational content series, Peter Mansbridge filters out the truth that many retirees are searching for,” said Tremblay. “And the reality is that while the CHIP Reverse Mortgage may not be right for everyone, it has offered financial freedom to countless Canadians looking to enjoy retirement in their own homes.”

What’s the deal with (older) celebrities and reverse mortgages: Reverse mortgage lenders have tended to use celebrity pitchman to promote their products in a folksy but earnest manner, leading to one observation that they “leverage their legitimacy for a fee.”

In the U.S., everyone from Tom “Magnum P.I.” Selleck, to Robert Wagner, the late Law & Order star Fred Thompson, and even The Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, have appeared in ads promoting reverse mortgage products. In some cases, they have a tie with the products they’re promoting, with both Thompson and Winkler indicating that family members had taken out a reverse mortgage.

The New York Times wrote about the phenomenon in a 2012 article that described reverse mortgages as “ground zero” for celebrity endorsements. “Confronting momentous decisions about their health and finances, [seniors] are attracted to familiar figures they can trust,” wrote the Times. “This is driving demand for no-longer-ready-for-prime-time celebrities willing to vouch for products in ads often shown during reruns of movies and TV shows they made during their salad days.”

So who wins in a wrestling match between Mansbridge and Selleck?: “Chances are that Tom Selleck’s moustache would break free to pin both Mansbridge and Selleck,” said Tremblay.

And we quote: “This was a huge opportunity to clear up a lot of the misinformation and challenges people have with reverse mortgages, led by one of Canada’s most trusted personalities. Working with Peter was a fantastic experience. We didn’t know a single question that we were going to be asked and that made it real and exciting.” — Yvonne Ziomecki, executive vice-president of marketing and CMO, HomeEquity Bank

Chris Powell