Three Lessons from "The Four Freedoms": What Norman Rockwell Can Teach Us about Marketing Financial Services

Posted by Peggy Gordon

Wed, Feb 20, 2019 @ 01:00 PM


Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want is the most iconic depiction of dinner ever set to canvas. Even if you don’t know the title, you know the image … grandma setting a massive, roasted turkey on a dining room table that’s aglow with white light and framed by a gleeful family. Everyone’s happy, healthy, and outwardly well adjusted. It’s the aspirational image you have in mind when you optimistically plan your own family gathering, even if your family doesn’t get along-and some of them are vegan.

It’s marketing genius. 

The story behind this and the other three paintings in the Four Freedoms series – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom from Fear – is a lesson in how to create a powerful and simple marketing message. And it’s one you can apply when marketing financial services. 

  1. Have a goal – Like many Americans in 1942, Norman Rockwell was working to help the war effort in any way he could. Applying his considerable talent as an illustrator, he first painted a piece for the Ordnance Department of the U.S. Army. The image of a gunner in need of ammunition was to be distributed in poster form to ordnance plants across the country as inspiration to work harder for the cause. With that project finished and eager to do more, Rockwell next conceived of a four-part series depicting the four freedoms described by President Roosevelt in his January 1941 address to Congress. The idea was not just to fortify the resolve of the people, but to inspire them to give; as the completed series toured the country, more than a million people saw the exhibit − and those who purchased war bonds received prints of the paintings as an appreciation gift. 

Before you begin your marketing effort, know exactly what you want to achieve, as this will inform your creative decisions along the way. 

Proactive vs. Reactive Commercial Portfolio Management

  1. Allow yourself to be inspired – While raising funds for the U.S. war effort was his goal, Rockwell’s inspiration was closer to home. Initially, he was unsure how to depict these “high-blown” ideas the President so elegantly described. It was while struggling with the concepts that he happened to attend a local town meeting and took notice of a neighbor who bravely stood to voice an unpopular view. That was the inspiration for the first piece, Freedom of Speech. It succeeds because it depicts the noblest aspect of freedom--the courage it takes to stand up and exercise it. 

Search for a marketing concept that strikes real emotion. 

  1. Cast your target audience in beautiful light – Rockwell’s crowning achievement in the series lies in who he chose to depict. These are not models of idealized beauty, even by 1940s standards. These are the very people he was asking to buy bonds; simple folk literally cast in beautiful light to underscore their nobility. It was how his target audience wished to be and how they wished to be seen. That is why the images were – and remain – so effective. Consider that the bonds sold were in denominations of $25, $50, and $100, and consider how much money that was to regular people at that time. Now consider that the series raised $133 million for our soldiers. 

A message that speaks to who we wish to be personally will persuade. A message that understands who we wish to be collectively will endure. 

It has been 75 years since the Four Freedoms first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. The images still move us to straighten our backs, steel our resolve, and glow with national pride. No doubt they could still sell a war bond or two were anyone selling. That’s an enduring marketing message and something to which we can all aspire.

Topics: Commercial Lending, sales, Marketing

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