How an Ad Will Persuade You to Talk to Your Kids About Money

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According to this poster, financial illiteracy is like being a blindfolded 5-year-old girl crossing a street.

Coming soon to a magazine, newspaper or Web page near you: emotionally charged public-service messages designed to jolt parents into having “the talk” with their kids. Not that talk. The tougher one about how to budget, save and otherwise manage money.

The National Financial Educators Council just unveiled a series of gripping print ads that liken poor personal finance skills to common dangers like, say, texting and driving or unprotected sex. Featured images include a girl crossing the street in a blindfold, a teen drinking and driving, a child playing on train tracks and a youngster abusing prescription drugs.

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Most parents have spoken with their kids about such obvious dangers. The idea here is to get parents to think the same way about the less obvious but also dangerous condition of lacking basic understanding of personal-financial issues. Hopefully the campaign gets traction. It will need sponsors to reach full rollout.

This may be just what the financial-literacy movement needs: a smart awareness campaign similar to historic efforts to get us to “buckle up” in the car and not be “a litterbug.” A Brookings Institution study found that a national ad campaign surrounding personal-financial issues would have “significant potential” for raising the nation’s financial IQ.

I’ve had ideas on how to go about this before. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been behind the concept for a half-dozen years. Some of its concerns are that consumers often do not even know that they need to be educated about sound money practices; they have no idea of the variety of financial products and providers out there or where they can find support. An awareness campaign should address these issues.

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The OECD also notes that the issue has reached crisis levels because of the increase in number and complexity of financial products; rising levels of debt around the world; changing pension landscape, which makes everyone more responsible for their financial future; and the growing number of financial transactions online.

Governments from the U.S. to Slovakia to Australia have tried their hand at money-focused awareness campaigns with only moderate success. In recent years financial institutions have gone at it halfheartedly and, critics charge, in a self-serving manner. Foundations like the National Endowment for Financial Education and organizations like have sponsored campaigns too.

But they aren’t easy to pull off. The Brookings Institution report notes special problems with a broad campaign designed to beef up Americans’ money know-how. Most successful public-information efforts have a clear and measurable goal: get a vaccine, stop smoking, use a condom. The goal here — be smart about your money — is vague and means different things to different people. What you hope is that it stirs enough interest to make people think about what being smart with money means to them — and to have the talk with their kids.