Is it me or have insurance commercials become increasingly prevalent? It seems you can’t turn on the television these days without first being subjected to a barrage of syrupy advertisements urging you to consider the risk of some unforeseen calamity. Sure, accidents happen. But do you really want to be reminded of it every morning when you’ve just mustered up the courage to step out and attack the day?
This is, of course, the objective of such ads. The ad makers have got it down to an all too familiar art. You know the hackneyed script: the ad opens with an elderly couple sitting gravely in the kitchen, the kettle has just boiled, a pot of tea gently infuses on the counter. “Before John’s accident,” the woman says, her hands clasping the warming mug, “I used to think everything would be OK ...” Well there’s her first mistake because, as the insurance companies love to have us think, things are never OK. Or as English wit Angus Deayton once said, as one door closes, another one falls on top of you. And Deayton would know: his father was an insurance broker.
Just when the elderly couple trope is starting to get a bit bleak, a washed-up minor celebrity is usually on hand to step in to the scene to tell you, in reassuring tones, that everything can be all right. All you need do, he says, is set aside a derisory sum today and forever sleep in peace until tomorrow’s catastrophe arrives — if it ever does.
Once restricted to the midmorning and latenight timeslots, the insurance ad is now ubiquitous. Not even the 24-hour music channels — once a quarantined bastion of vice and abandon — are safe from the insurance ads and their insipid brand of faux well-meaningness.
It’s a curious development, for the musicchannel audience — of all demographics — is probably the least inclined to be fretting about income protection or funeral insurance. But there you go. What the insurance houses lack in tact they make up for in cunning. If the scaremongering works in the obvious places, why not cast the net further?
Another phase in the evolution of the insurance ad is the content. It used to be that life insurance was the only type you saw advertised. These days, however, there’s someone willing to take money off you for every conceivable misfortune. Before you unexpectedly die, leaving your loved ones adrift and penniless, have you considered what else could eventuate? No? Well, don’t worry. The insurance companies have their own crystal ball of doom to help you prepare for the worst. First, you will certainly have secured house insurance. Even if your home is rock solid and immaculately maintained, there’s always the possibility of spontaneous combustion. And who’s going to pay for your funeral? They’re as expensive as they are inconvenient. Best to put a bit away now to cover it. And if you do die, how will you work? Income protection is probably advisable. And what if the dog gets sick because you’re no longer around to feed him? There’s pet insurance, you say? Jolly good. Where do I sign?
Hyperbole aside, one can’t help but see a certain paradox at play here. Australians are renowned gamblers. And insurance is, it could argued, a form of betting — betting against life’s contingencies. (It’s a curious coincidence that ads for sports betting seem to be proliferating at the same rate as the insurance commercials.)
Can it be coincidence, too, that you may be watching your favourite program and see it interrupted by an insurance ad followed by a betting ad or vice versa?
On the one hand, we’re being preyed on to part with our money in the belief that the cautious route is the safest; on the other, we’re urged to throw caution to the wind because it just may pay off.
Perhaps the insurance companies know something we don’t. That is, they know we’re captive to their ads because we see the inherent gamble involved. They know we’ll be forever willing to take a bet against the unthinkable happening.
“Death,” Auden once said, “is like the distant rumble of thunder at a picnic.” If only insurance companies could put it so nicely.