You, your wallet and Betty White

Betty WhiteImprobable as it sounds, Betty White is the new "it" girl.

After her recent Super Bowl ad for Snickers, as just about everyone up on their popular culture knows, the 88-year-old comic actress and icon can do no wrong. The Snickers ad was a huge success (Snickers was clearly happy. Go to their web site, and there's a giant picture of a smiling Betty White, greeting everyone), and as many people know, more than half a million fans -- and I was one of them -- signed up on Facebook to petition SNL creator Lorne Michaels to put her on Saturday Night Live. So naturally, when I read the news that the comedienne agreed to be a guest on Saturday Night Live, which will happen on May 8, my first thought was how closely personal finance and Betty White are connected.

OK, it's a bit of a reach, but I thought it'd be fun to examine, anyway.

If you're shaking your head and thinking, "I wanted to read about something a little more serious," here's a post I recently wrote about saving for college. Or check out my colleague Kelly Phillip Erb's recent IRS post. But for those of you who, like me, have swallowed the Betty White Kool-Aid and find it refreshing, well, read on...

Betty White is improving the economy. Crazy as it sounds, one can make an argument that White is doing her part to help America rebound from its recession.

I contacted an industry expert to get his take on whether NBC will be able to charge more to advertisers whenever White appears on SNL and this advertising veteran thinks so.

"Ads are sold on a ratings basis, and that episode will deliver higher ratings," says Gabby Medecki, who has more than 25 years experience in the media, including running his own ad agency. Now he's the chief marketing officer, a web site for live music fans.

"Generally," says Medecki, "the network and agencies calculate the expected rating of an episode based on things like this hype on Betty White. If they over-calculate, they'll owe the advertiser a refund or 'make good' spots in another show. If they under-estimate (they won't), then theoretically, they get to charge the advertiser more, afterward."

And, of course, long after the show, who knows, maybe you'll find yourself switching car insurance or buying a can of soup that you hadn't known you wanted, had you not watched that one particular advertisement for the hundredth time on SNL.

Betty White may change the music scene.This didn't occur to me until I got in touch with John Heaven, CEO of a digital-delivery service called Yangaroo (among other things, they distribute artists' music to radio for major labels in America and Canada). Heaven made the connection that if more people than usual tune into SNL, that would then "increase the audience for the musical guest." So White's appearance could end up helping that band sell more records.

Look for Betty White to stay in demand, especially as long as the economy is a downer. This is the theory posed by Mason Wiley, senior vice president of marketing for the Hydra Group, a large affiliate ad agency. Wiley has more than 20 years experience in marketing and, among other things, developed the TV campaign that helped California voters envision Arnold Schwarzenegger as a political outsider instead of a Hollywood movie hero. He says that while White is "a great comedienne," the current economic climate may also be an asset for her right now.

"Keep in mind that people tend to take comfort in their past in a down economy. Retro is new again," says Wiley, "thus the return of so many Hasbro board games, and TV shows like Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210. White is no different, as she's a comforting, almost grandmotherly figure. And she still has her fans, as her online Facebook campaign proves. It's an organic outgrowth of the affection people have for her. The fact that she appears to be a kindly little old lady but actually has a dark streak and a potty mouth make her pretty hip for a whole new generation as well."

You can watch Betty White online for free. OK, these days, who can't you watch on TV for free? But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this.

The Internet Movie Database has seven pages of Betty White programming (though much of it is the first three seasons' episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and she doesn't appear in those; she didn't join the cast until season four). And while The Golden Girls may be available online, I haven't been able to find it.

But one interesting place to watch Betty White is at the web site of the Museum of TV and Radio. It's really an amazing place to find an old TV series. You can't watch anything on your full computer screen, but for amateur and professional TV historians, it's a wondrous place. It's also free to sign up, and if you go into their video archives and type "Betty White" in the search engine, you'll find her old 1950s TV talk show The Betty White Show and a 1950s sitcom Life with Elizabeth. If black and white, grainy footage isn't your thing, you might want to skip it. But if you're curious how White got her start, and she is a joy to watch in the handful of shows up on the web site, you'll likely get a kick out of these.

Betty White's giving everyone a career path to shoot for. I think the biggest reason for White's popularity, in a way, has nothing to do with her talent and considerable charm. I think some of her recent mass appeal stems from the fact that everyone is probably happy to see that you can be 88 years old and have a thriving career. Seriously, if you think about it, a lot of people are worried about their future. IRAs have taken a hit. Unemployment is still high. A lot of people are having to reinvent themselves in this economy and are worried about how they'll fit into the future. (Or is that just me?)

If you're 22 years old entering an unfriendly job market, you'll be 88 in the year 2076. If you're 45 and trying to make sense of where you fit into a rapidly-changing economy, you'll be 88 in the year 2053. Either way, those are some pretty "out there," numbers, and it may be difficult or scary wondering what you're going to be doing in the middle or last third of the 21st century. So here comes Betty White, playing football in a TV ad, and selling Snickers, and making movies (recently The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and the upcoming film You Again), and co-starring in TV series (next up, Hot in Cleveland, which will debut on TV Land later this year). Just by doing her thing, she's arguably inspiring several generations and reminding them that their career path and quality of life has the potential to continue well into one's golden years.

Not that White is the only aging actor out there in demand, of course. For instance, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, the prolific and talented Ernest Borgnine, 93, is currently filming a supporting role in Red, a Bruce Willis action flick, and he has several other projects in the works. And I'm left wondering what character actor Abe Vigoda, 89, thinks of the Betty White phenomenon. He was in that Snickers commercial, too, and while he has several movie projects in the works, a similar groundswell of fan support doesn't seem to be occurring. Maybe someone should start a "Get Abe Vigoda on Saturday Night Live" Facebook page.

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop, a closet TV-holic and the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.

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