What Do Paul Bunyan, A Pair Of Portland Songsters, and The Boston Red Socks Have In Common? They All Want You To Enroll In Health Insurance Exchanges.

September 26, 2013

With state- and federally-run exchanges due to open for business in just a few days, how are states reaching out to maximize enrollments? You might be surprised.

Maryland has chosen to trade on the popularity of reigning Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens, while Oregon has decided to capitalize on its image as a friendly, outdoorsy state with abundant natural resources and a love of flannel. Others have employed quirky, yet iconic characters in hopes of being memorable. For example, Minnesota’s campaign features folklore hero Paul Bunyan and his companion, Babe the Big Blue Ox.


While it’s fun to check in on some of these efforts, at the end of the day it’s serious business. As everyone knows, for public exchanges to be successful, lots of people must visit them and buy insurance plans.

Which of these campaigns do you think will be winners?

Colorado was the first state to launch an ad campaign for its health insurance exchange back in May. One ad features a woman jumping up and down surrounded by baseball players as if celebrating a sports victory while a voiceover intones, “When health care companies compete, there is only one winner: you.”

Maryland, mentioned earlier, has enlisted the Baltimore Ravens to help boost awareness by running ads before and after the team’s Gameday TV show. Why football? Research revealed that 71% of the uninsured population in Maryland has watched, attended or listened to a Ravens game in the past 12 months. State exchange officials faced some controversy, however, when they attempted to recruit Baltimore Ravens players to appear in the ads — an idea that did not fly.

Massachusetts chose baseball instead, running ads featuring endorsements from Boston Red Sox players, including former pitcher Tim Wakefield.

Taking a different tack, neither Kentucky nor Oregon mention exchanges directly in their ads, beyond links to their exchange websites. Kentucky’s animated commercials are meant to evoke empathy for those who have difficulty obtaining insurance. Some Oregon ads feature guitar-toting musicians walking through idyllic Oregon scenery singing original songs with folksy melodies and lyrics reminiscent of American folk anthems. Others have a more urban theme with a rap song as their centerpiece.

Playing against type, California takes a no-nonsense approach to advertising its health insurance exchange. It runs ads in both English and Spanish that feature people going about their everyday lives, foregoing the flashier tactics of other campaigns. “You won’t be seeing movie stars,” says the exchange’s Executive Director Peter Lee. “You won’t be seeing rock stars. You’ll be seeing real people.”

New York takes a similar approach, with its ads depicting a cross-section of New Yorkers from diverse age groups, ethnicities, and geographies.

But our favorite campaign so far is Minnesota’s, which features Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox getting into various scrapes that just result in the need for medical attention.  These ads feature gems like a distressed Paul Bunyan calling out, “Babe, get your blue ox over here!” In keeping with the state’s tagline of “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” the ads conclude with, “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 reasons to get health insurance.”

For a good laugh, check out this ad, in which Paul Bunyan has an accident while water skiing.

 [Photo Credit: Dwayne on Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0]

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