TIAA addresses the gender retirement gap

Boxes with TIAA's Title IX Retire Inequality branding

The campaign, by The Martin Agency, is TIAA’s first under top marketer Stephen Tisdalle.

Women earn 30% less in retirement than men on average, a compounding impact of the chronic gender pay gap in the U.S. 

TIAA (The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund), the nonprofit-owned organization that offers retirement planning services to teachers and medical workers, wants to get behind this issue as it reintroduces its 104-year-old brand to a new generation. 

The organization brought on former State Street CMO Stephen Tisdalle as its chief brand and demand generation officer in November to reposition TIAA in a new era. Over the years, deregulation has allowed deep-pocketed competitors such as Fidelity and Vanguard to encroach on TIAA’s core audience, creating an awareness problem for the organization.

“TIAA has this amazing mission and millions of people depend on it,” Tisdalle said. “Yet it's a really misunderstood brand.”

TIAA is often a better choice for teachers and medical workers such as nurses and EMTs who often don’t earn enough to save for retirement, because it offers a guaranteed income stream – in other words, regular paychecks in retirement. That’s different from the 401(k) structure, which requires workers to invest in a fund over the course of their careers that they can draw on as income in retirement.

But explaining all of that to a Gen Z and younger millennial audience is difficult. “The concept of a pension plan, the word ‘annuity’ – they hear that and are like, ‘that’s not for me,’” Tisdalle explained.

So rather than taking them through the weeds of retirement offerings, TIAA is leaning into a cause that young women can rally behind to restate its relevance.

The #RetireInequality campaign, launched on Tuesday, features influential women across college sports, celebrities and gender pay advocates sharing their personal stories on social media and raising awareness about the issue. The grassroots influencer campaign, created with The Martin Agency, is timed to kick off women’s history month, celebrate March Madness and coincide with the 50th anniversary of Title IX. 

It includes a custom symbol – the number 9 with an unequal sign running through it – which influencers can use on social media to promote the cause. TIAA has also printed the symbol on custom swag sent to influencers so they can make the content their own, Tisdalle said.

The campaign features Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and coach Dawn Staley; Oregon Ducks forward Sedona Prince; Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer; Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson; Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale; Maryland Terrapins forward Angel Reese; Baylor’s women’s basketball assistant coach Chloe Pavlech; Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne; and other NCAA women’s basketball players.

“Nobody likes to be marketed to,” Tisdalle said. “People want information, help and insight in making better decisions. They are much more open to the persuasion of an influencer or someone they know. So we have to embrace a different way of getting out our message.”

TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett, one of two Black female CEOs in the Fortune 500 and a major advocate for gender equality and DE&I, is also featured in the campaign as its chief spokesperson. She will lead the charge on TIAA’s public policy efforts to close the retirement gap.  

TIAA has also signed on as a signature sponsor of The Equity Project, an initiative from the Women’s Sports Foundation, Billie Jean King’s foundation, as part of the movement.

“We're leading with this idea of gender equality and this fact that there is a massive gap,” Tisdalle explained. 

Because TIAA is owned by a nonprofit, it didn’t have a huge budget to work with, leading it to skip paid media placements in favor of an influencer-led strategy. Tisdalle, who was behind State Street’s Fearless Girl campaign, is no stranger to creating moments of virality out of relatively inexpensive, influencer-led campaigns.

“Less was spent on [Fearless Girl] than any other campaign that has surfaced across the globe,” Tisdalle said. “It was other people taking the Fearless Girl message and reposting it. We did not need to work as hard because we established an emotional connection.”

Establishing an emotional connection is exactly what TIAA is trying to do through the #RetireInequality movement, which it eventually plans to extend to other issues such as the African American retirement gap. 

Despite recent pushback from investors on purpose-led marketing, Tisdalle is a big believer in getting behind an emotional issue where there is an authentic connection. 

“We are trying to actually help young women be aware of how critical it is to have a financial plan, and that there are resources available to them the day they start working,” he said. “We're not flogging a product. We're addressing a problem.”

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