November 16, 2022

New Study Reveals How Americans Respond to Retirement Language and Imagery

Capital Group survey highlights need for customized messages to engage disparate audiences

LOS ANGELES, November 16, 2022 —  While there is no one way to effectively speak to the broad American population about retirement, the language used in retirement communications is important – and is often a more dependable way to communicate than imagery – according to new research by Capital Group, home of American Funds, and one of the world’s leading investment management firms.

“This research makes clear that both the language and imagery we use in retirement communications do matter in making an impact on people and inspiring them to take action,” said Toni Brown, head of Retirement Strategy at Capital Group. “As an industry, we need to understand how both are working together, and connecting emotionally across audiences, so that we can better educate, guide and support Americans on their journey to retirement.”

The study of 2,451 American adults included an audit of 590 images and 691 written messages from 33 companies across multiple platforms, including financial firms’ websites, social media, blogs, and marketing content. The findings underscore that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to retirement communications. People carry a strong sense of individuality and are attracted to messaging that recognizes and addresses their specific needs. The audience’s age, for example, strongly influences preferences for both written messages and imagery: 

  • Smarter/better messages, for example phrases like “saving smarter for retirement,” appeal most to Gen X investors who want to know their money is working for them to the greatest extent possible, while Boomers can find such language to be patronizing or condescending.
  • Planning imagery, and language such as “plan the retirement you deserve,” appeal more to Millennials who are just getting started saving and have plenty of time to prepare for retirement.
  • Imagery portraying enjoyment and transition rate higher with Boomers than their younger counterparts as retirement may be closer at hand and less speculation for them.

“The research revealed that people can have messy, mixed and deeply personal emotions about retirement,” said Brown. “At the same time, investors seem to want to know the pathway to retirement is doable, worth it, and in their control. When it comes to language, straight-forward, factual statements about successful outcomes resonate most.”

  • Outcome-oriented messages such as “knowing that it’s possible to live the life I want in retirement,” are more effective than messages about getting started and learning. Respondents also preferred factual statements over product-related ones.
  • Planning statements that position the individual at the center of the discussion around retirement, and enjoyment messages, are more appealing and likely to encourage action than negative language such as warnings of potential mistakes, or prevention messages.
  • “One of the most common mistakes” was the least preferred message, with 58% of respondents reporting they did not associate it with feeling more confident and 55% saying they did not associate it with wanting to save more.


With imagery, the study found those showing people being supportive and images of planning to be the most appealing, 50% and 47% respectively. The least preferred images fell into the prevention category, for example, where older individuals were portrayed receiving health care.

The research revealed how difficult it is for an image to elicit a uniform reaction, with a wide range of responses to each image. What’s more, respondents were not especially quick in their reactions, compared to language. Many had to stop and think longer. Similar surveys taken in other industries, for example to gauge consumer product preference, often generate rapid, confident reactions. Slower reaction times may underscore the discomfort or uncertainty many people feel about retirement and/or investing.

Overall, survey participants reported they want to see more of the following in retirement communications:

  • Diversity of race and ethnicity as well as life stage and work setting, including retired singles, younger people and those working non-traditional jobs.
  • Portraits of retirement as a physically active time with a broader depiction of retirement activities.
  • Images of technology. Universally, respondents liked seeing the technology they use in their daily lives, such as tablets and smartphones.
  • People actively working in retirement as retirees are increasingly choosing (or needing) to pursue part-time work in retirement.


About the study

Capital Group partnered with market research firm Escalent in Q4 2021 to survey and interview 2,451 American adults with various employment situations, including both advised vs. self-directed investors and a mix of age, gender, and race/ethnicity. All qualified as investors by having at least one account, such as an IRA, employer sponsored retirement account, brokerage account, or digital investment account. The study included an audit of hundreds of written messages and images that comprise the current retirement landscape - drawn from financial firms’ websites, social media and marketing content - followed by an analysis of participants’ feelings and reactions to those communications.

For additional information and the full report, click here.

About Capital Group

As of September 30, 2022, Capital Group manages approximately $2.1 trillion in equity and fixed income assets for millions of individuals and institutional investors around the world. Capital Group manages equity assets through three investment groups. These groups make investment and proxy voting decisions independently. Fixed income investment professionals provide fixed income research and investment management across the Capital organization; however, for securities with equity characteristics, they act solely on behalf of one of the three equity investment groups. For more information, visit




Natalie Marin (Los Angeles)
+1 (213) 615-4508

Caroline Semerdjian (Los Angeles)
+1 (213) 615-3185

Investments are not FDIC-insured, nor are they deposits of or guaranteed by a bank or any other entity, so they may lose value.

All Capital Group trademarks mentioned owned by The Capital Group Companies, Inc., an affiliated company. All other company and product names mentioned are the property of their respective companies.

This content, developed by Capital Group, home of American Funds, should not be used as a primary basis for investment decisions and is not intended to serve as impartial investment or fiduciary advice.

Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. This information is intended to highlight issues and should not be considered advice, an endorsement or a recommendation.

American Funds Distributors, Inc., member FINRA.

© 2022 Capital Group. All rights reserved