Wanted: Financial Education National Ad Campaign

Last Updated Jan 19, 2011 11:15 AM EST

The financial education movement needs a slogan. No kidding. A national ad campaign would have "significant potential" for raising the nation's financial IQ, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

The authors of the report envision something like the public service campaigns surrounding forest fires, smoking, safe sex, drug use and other matters of public health or safety. Presumably, the campaign would be directed at kids as well as adults.

The authors acknowledge special problems with a broad campaign designed to beef up Americans' money know-how. For example, 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.

So it would not readily lend itself to a memorable sound bite. Still, a general awareness campaign alerting folks to the rotting social safety net and need for personal responsibility is intriguing.

As my contribution to this effort I offer up: "Self security: the only safety net you'll ever need."

That's the working title for a book I started writing a few years back but which I have, for now, abandoned. It may not rhyme but it makes the essential point that when it comes to your financial future you are on your own like never before and must learn to make smarter choices.

Here are some of my favorite public information campaigns from years past and, just for fun, how they might translate to the personal financial literacy movement:

· This is drugs; this is your brain on drugs

Translation: "This is your retirement; this is your retirement without a plan." Picture a yacht; picture a soup line.

· Every litter bit hurts

Maybe this one translates, "Please, please don't be illiterate 'cause every illiterate hurts." Sing to the same tune.

· Buckle up for safety

Here's a stretch translation: "Toughen up for self security, toughen up. Show the world you care by the way you dare to toughen up for self security, always toughen up." Again, sing to the same tune.

Two other gems that I could not find video for:

  • Be smart. Don't start That's an anti smoking campaign aimed at teens. Translation for a financial literacy campaign: "Be smart. Get a start."
  • Only you can prevent forest fires Forget Smokey the Bear. We'll have Uncle Sam wagging his finger and telling us, "Only you can prevent financial fires."
Post your ideas in a reply, if you like. I'd love to see them, serious or otherwise.

Photo courtesy Flickr user calsidyrose
More on MoneyWatch:
· Financial Advice from the Feds - Coming Soon?
· The Top Reason Kids Don't Learn Money at School
·Teaching Kids About Money, What We're Up Against
· Financial Education Takes a U-Turn
·Taking Financial Education to the Next Level
· Financial Education: Where We're Headed
· Students in Debt: $1 Trillion Hole and More Dropouts

  • Dan Kadlec

    Daniel J. Kadlec is an author and journalist whose work appears regularly in Time and Money magazines. He is the former editor of Time’s Generations section, which was written and edited for boomers. Kadlec came to Time from USA Today, where he was the creator and author of the daily column Street Talk, which anchored the newspaper's business coverage. He has co-written three books, including, most recently, With Purpose: Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. He has won a New York Press Club award and a National Headliner Award for columns on the economy and investing.