Health Insurance Ads Range From Weighty To Whimsical

Sep 10, 2013
Originally published on September 10, 2013 4:05 pm

The federal health care law is taking on unique personalities in states that have opted to run their own health insurance marketplaces.

Some states are cracking wise in ads about the exchanges, where people will be able to shop for insurance starting in October. Others are rolling out catchy jingles. Some are all business.

But in each case, the states are looking to persuade uninsured Americans, especially young ones, to go ahead and buy health insurance. Starting next year, just about everyone in the U.S. will be required to have health insurance.

California's $80 million ad campaign is targeting about 5 million uninsured people who qualify to buy health insurance on the state-run marketplace, called Covered California.

The first phase began airing on Labor Day in three test markets. The campaign includes a spot that takes viewers on a sort of road trip through California with highway signs welcoming them to what the narrator describes as "a new state of health." A second welcome ad is in Spanish.

Subsequent ads will focus on real Californians and their real stories about illnesses and accidents, and the financial toll those can wreak on the unprepared.

California's ads take a more serious approach than some. It's a straight-talking strategy that Daniel Zingale with the California Endowment, a private grant-giving organization, says makes sense in a state as large and as diverse as California.

"When you actually get down to the facts about what's in the law and specifically what benefits you and your family, that's what gets people's attention," he says.

But while stressing facts may be just the ticket for California, some other states are betting on less conventional approaches.

Oregon, for instance, launched a $4 million media campaign in early July that showcases local musicians, such as Portland folk singer Laura Gibson. In an ad, she croons about the virtues of healthy living in Oregon, rather than health insurance.

In Minnesota, a nearly $9 million ad campaign relies on humor. Ads show folk legend Paul Bunyan and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox in a series of painful mishaps. Woodpeckers attack poor Paul. In another ad, the he-man lumberjack injures himself in a water-skiing accident.

And in Maryland, a $2.5 million ad campaign extols the virtues of health insurance with images of blue crabs, a hunky fisherman, a slew of smiling people and a catchy jingle.

But no matter how clever or creative these ad campaigns may be, their success ultimately will be measured by how many of the states' young and healthy residents enroll in health insurance when they open for business on Oct. 1.

This piece is part of a collaboration among NPR, KPCC and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2014 Southern California Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.kpcc.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

In states that have opted to run their own health insurance marketplaces, the Affordable Care Act is developing something of a personality. Whether through humor, catchy jingles or as straight talk, each effort has the same goal: to persuade uninsured Americans to buy health insurance as required by the federal health law. California has rolled out the first ads in its campaign. And as Stephanie O'Neill from member station KPCC reports, it's taking a no-nonsense approach.

STEPHANIE O'NEILL, BYLINE: California's $80 million ad campaign is targeting about 5 million uninsured residents who qualify to buy health insurance on the state-run marketplace called Covered California.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Soon, Californians from Sacramento to Salinas to San Diego will have equal access to quality health insurance.

O'NEILL: Phase one began airing on Labor Day in three test markets and includes this spot that takes viewers on a sort of road trip through California with highway signs welcoming them to what the narrator describes as a new state of health.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Those who need financial assistance will get it, and nobody will be denied because of a preexisting condition. Welcome to a new state of health. Welcome to Covered California. We are your health insurance marketplace.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

O'NEILL: A second welcome ad is in Spanish and shows smiling people welcoming viewers into their homes and businesses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

O'NEILL: Subsequent ads will focus on real Californians with real stories about illnesses and accidents and the financial toll they can wreak on the unprepared. It's a straight talking strategy that Daniel Zingale with The California Endowment, a private grant-giving organization, says makes sense in a state as large and as diverse as California.

DANIEL ZINGALE: When you actually get down to the facts about what's in the law and, specifically, what benefits you and your family, that's when you get people's attention.

O'NEILL: But while just the facts may be just the ticket for California, some other states are betting on less conventional approaches.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE LONG IN OREGON")

LAURA GIBSON: (Singing) Long live the Oregon spirit. Long live the Oregon way.

O'NEILL: Oregon, for instance, launched its $4 million media campaign in early July with introductory ads showcasing local musicians such as Portland folksinger Laura Gibson, who croon not about health insurance but rather about the virtues of healthy living in Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE LONG IN OREGON")

GIBSON: (Singing) Each logger and lawyer and stay-at-home dad, every baker and banker and indie rock band, each student and teacher and neighbor and friend will live long in Oregon. Long live...

O'NEILL: In Minnesota, the state's nearly $9 million ad campaign relies on humor by showing folk legend Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox in a series of painful mishaps that feature everything from woodpeckers attacking poor Paul to the lumberjack injuring himself in a waterskiing accident.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Whoa. Oh. Oh, oh.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Minnesota, land of 10,000 reasons to get health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Babe, little help?

O'NEILL: And in Maryland, a $2.5 million ad campaign is extolling the virtues of health insurance with images of blue crabs, a hunky fisherman, a slew of smiling people and this catchy jingle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: It's a new day. There's a brand-new way. Get the health coverage you need...

O'NEILL: But no matter how clever or creative these ads may be, their success ultimately will be measured by how many of the young and healthy residents they enroll in health insurance when they open for business on October 1st. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie O'Neill.

CORNISH: This piece is part of a collaboration with NPR KPCC and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.