Marketing Math 101, Volume 2

It’s been a while since I made fun of the silly math tricks that marketers play. It’s time to revisit the subject and found an example in a print ad from Allstate.

The headline of the ad asks “How long of a retirement should you plan for?” (The italics are shown as they are in the ad — don’t ask me why those words are italicized). Following the headline is this subheader:


My take: I imagine that Allstate wants us to think that there are a lot of people turn 100 each year and that we, too, might make it to 100 years old. But there’a problem with Allstate’s math.

Granted, I’m not the most popular person around, but even Mr. Cranky here manages to get seven or eight birthday cards on his birthday (and that doesn’t count the ones the kids give me, since they usually make cards, not buy them).

Now how many cards do you think the typical 100 year-old gets? Between the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and possibly even great-great grandchildren, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number was ten or more. But let’s be conservative and call it eight.

That means there weren’t 85,000 people who turned 100 last year. More like 10,000. Or roughly .0035% of the US population. In other words, not a whole lot. And this is assuming that we’re talking about just the US. For all I know, Hallmark sells cards around the world.

So how many people turned 100 in the US last year? Beats me. The US Census bureau reports population estimates by age in five-year ranges up to 100. So I can figure out how many more people were in the 95-99 range in one year versus the prior, and how many more people were over the age of 100 in one year versus the prior. But that doesn’t really help determine how many turned 100 in any given year.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t plan for your retirement to support you until you’re 100. After all, according to one Web site (which I think cites a US Department of Health and Human Services study), in the year 2050, there will be 1 million Americans over the age of 100.

Now why didn’t Allstate just use that statistic?

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7 thoughts on “Marketing Math 101, Volume 2

  1. My husband’s grandfather is turning 102 in a few months.

    I realize that has nothing to do with your post, but it isn’t often I get to work that little nugget into a conversation.

    Great post Ron. Thanks!

  2. I’m always pleased when my RSS reader shows a new post from you, Ron.

    Mr. Cranky indeed.

    As far as I’m concerned, you have a lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card that entitles you to engage in righteous rant whenever you see dopey or otherwise indefensible marketing behavior.

    It makes for highly entertaining reading.

  3. I’m sure your last question was rhetorical, but I’d guess they didn’t use that DHHS stat b/c it’s long and boring. The greeting card stat is shorter and more fun to think about — Yay! Really old people are adorable!

  4. @terrell: I respectfully disagree with you. I think if Allstate had said “In 2050, there will be 1 million Americans over the age of 100. Will you be one of them?” that that would have been more engaging and provocative than the Hallmark stat. Just my opinion, of course.

  5. Yeah that ad sucked… They should have went with this instead:

    “If you lead a healthy lifestyle and are planning on living a long life, buy our shit or off yourself. That’s Allstate’s stand.”

    More to the point, includes an edgy little contradiction AND incorporates that nifty little tagline of there’s all at the same time. Wouldn’t you agree?

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