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Continued: Minnesota health insurance exchange aims for a big ad splash

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

Nationwide, supporters and detractors of Obamacare are expected to spend more than $500 million in the next six months to push their messages, according to Ad Age.

“It’s going to be noisy,” Hyman said. “Marketers of the exchange will need to find ways to break through.”

George John, who chairs the marketing department at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, said the marketing blitz may be unprecedented.

“The debate over Medicare in 1965 was much less contentious. The dollars weren’t so great, and no one foresaw how it would transform society,” he said. “Now we’re fed a steady diet of prognostication and forecasting. There’s just so much information out there that every issue becomes magnified. And this is probably the issue to end all issues.”

BBDO Proximity opened in 1930 with an account for Hormel Foods, which remains a client today. The agency has designed ads for financial services firms, real estate and well-known local and national brands. BBDO also has worked with states in the past, including lottery and tourism promotions and a stop-smoking campaign in New Jersey.

Last April, BBDO beat out 10 competitors for the one-year, $666,590 contract to build MNsure’s public awareness and education campaign. By that time, the state already had selected a name and logo and had done a good bit of consumer research.

The first round of ideas the BBDO team took to Todd-Malmlov and MNsure’s marketing director, Mary Sienko, yielded a “refreshing” response, said BBDO group account director Leslie Sipprell, who is overseeing the MNsure campaign.

“April said, ‘This is good, but push it even further,’ ” Sipprell said. “It could have been very easy to play it safe. They wanted something fresh and unexpected.”

A team at BBDO Proximity quickly took a handful of ideas on the road and tested them in Bemidji, Duluth, St. Cloud, Marshall, Rochester and the Twin Cities. The direction, they said, was clear. “People are so cynical and beaten down,” Sipprell said. “We heard, ‘This makes us laugh and want to buy insurance.’ ”

A difficult mission

Ads are only part of the outreach campaign. Influencing people’s behavior over something as complex and politicized as health care will require a different approach than enticing consumers to switch to a new brand of laundry detergent, said the U’s George.

“To get my 23-year-old son to sign up for insurance is a far different matter than to get him to trade in his old phone to get a new phone,” George said. “The success or failure of the exchange is not going to turn on some clever ad campaign or having a Twitter account with some creative copywriter.”

To get people to do big things differently, you have to engage them and set up institutional structures to support the choice, he said. Giving blood, for instance. The Red Cross shows up, makes it simple, and sets up in a prominent place that people can’t walk past without feeling guilty.

“Think of this as the moral equipment of the bloodmobile and the gurneys in the office lobby,” George said. “If you can make it easy for my son to sign up, he’ll do it.”

In public presentations about the broad-based campaign, MNsure officials seem confident that they have the bases covered. They plan to use a variety of media tactics to hit people with “memorable messages.”

“In other words,” one presenter said, “we want to stop people in their tracks.”


Staff writer Jim Adams contributed to this report. Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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