Why is that so “old mutual”?

Recently, the insurance company Old Mutual has been running a “clever” ad campaign in which they use “old mutual” as a new slang term to mean something else (see video from Youtube). The ads end with the tag line “It may sound strange now…but it won’t for long.”

But see how I put “clever” in “square quotes”? Something is amiss. I get that the marketers are trying to put a hip spin on insurance, and the original idea IS clever. But something went awry in the execution because they ended up giving the new hip phrase “old mutual” too many meanings.

Believe it or not, my mother and I have both sat there and tried to figure out what the slang term “old mutual” would mean in the real world. But it can’t be done. If you watch the various vignettes in just this ad, you will see that “old mutual” has the following meanings.

  • Fashionable/Chic/Hot
  • Important (especially to teenage girls)
  • Nostalgic?? (“we should let it go and just be old mutual”)
  • Get Through Traffic
  • Cool
  • The Boss/Company VP

Sorry you can’t easily connect the dots between a cabbie trying to bust through traffic and two middle managers commenting that the VP may not understand chai latte. Instead of thinking the marketers as being cutting edge, I’m thinking they’re just a bunch of young innocents who really should have squeezed in a Steven Pinker book before trying this stunt. Or maybe it’s really common sense, and the writers need to review the importance of precise word choice in their writing. D’uh!

FYI – my recommendation would have been to select just ONE meaning (e.g. “cool”) and run with it. I’m pretty sure you would have been able to get the requisite number of vignettes.

Ebola Postscript

There is one skit that got it right. Back in the initial Ebola scare of the mid 90s, Mad TV did a hilarious sketch in which the secret street slang council met and decided to introduce “Ebola” as a new slang term into the population. Sample use – “Girl, those stiletto pumps are ebola!” or “so cool it’s lethal.” This sentence actually makes sense.

The skit ends with the group discussing an implementation plan to introduce the new street term “ebola” in the following week. “Cool” says member A. “No …. Ebola” corrects member B.

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