Minnesota health insurance exchange aims for a big ad splash

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2013 - 1:45 PM

An advertising blitz to attract people to the state’s health exchange will kick off with Paul Bunyan and Babe at the State Fair.

James Delles is about to become a fixation of the nation’s health care marketers.

At 27, he’s young, healthy and has been without health insurance for most of the past four years. Soon he will have a decision to make.

“I’ve heard about the exchanges,” said Delles, who recently moved from Chico, Calif., to become a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. “They’re supposed to be cheaper because you can bundle a lot of people in one place. But I don’t really know how they work.”

As summer winds down and the Oct. 1 launch of Minnesota’s new MNsure health care exchange draws near, the state is betting millions that a pair of venerable Minnesota icons can grab the attention of young people like Delles and persuade them to buy coverage.

Starting Monday, images of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, will appear in newspapers, skyways, billboards and bus stops, as part of a campaign, titled “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance,” April Todd-Malmlov, MnSure’s executive director, said Sunday.

In coming weeks, the pair also will appear at MNsure’s State Fair booth and show up at community events and in television ads, online videos and social media.

It’s a crucial moment for supporters of President Obama’s health care law. The new online marketplaces must attract young and healthy people to keep premiums low and cover the costs to insure those with expensive medical needs.

The Minneapolis advertising agency that is coordinating the $9 million campaign, BBDO Proximity, faces a mammoth task. Polls show that nearly 40 percent of Americans don’t understand Obama­care and nearly one in five don’t even realize it’s the law.

‘Incredibly high’ stakes

“The stakes are incredibly high,” said Andy Hyman, a senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This is a historic moment — a chance to expand health coverage to a level we’ve not seen in most of our lifetimes.”

In a sound studio in downtown Minneapolis, representatives from BBDO and MNsure huddled late last week to record voice-overs and put finishing touches on the multi­pronged marketing campaign. The blitz strikes up in earnest after Labor Day, when call centers open to answer an expected flood of questions.

“It was strategic,” said Todd-Malmlov. “You don’t want to get the word out before there’s an action people can take.”

On Sunday, Brian Kroening, executive creative director of BBDO Proximity, showed reporters a video of ad excerpts. One video showed Paul Bunyan water skiing off Lake Waconia and into a tree.

“We won’t be afraid to let people smile,” Kroening said. “Everyone knows not having insurance is scary. I don’t need to remind them of that.”

He said Paul and Babe beat out two other characters, whom he wouldn’t name, in market research to be campaign stars. The Orman Research firm found the legendary pair resonated with people in focus groups in six regions of the state, Kroening said.

The federal government is pumping $22 million into Minnesota to get the word out about MNsure, which could draw as many as 975,000 Minnesotans in 2014, according to state estimates. The exchange will be used by individuals who don’t get workplace coverage, businesses with 50 or fewer employees and those covered by public programs. Most of the funds will be used to train and hire navigators to help people in such places as health clinics, businesses, libraries and religious institutions to shop on the MNsure website.

But MNsure’s message will be just one of many vying for consumers’ attention in the coming months. Insurance companies will be trying to reach the half-million Minnesotans currently uninsured, seeking to sway additional enrollees into their plans.

Obamacare opponents also will be speaking out. A new billboard near the State Fairgrounds urging consumers to “refuse MNsure” may be the opening salvo.

$500 million for advertising

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