In aftermath of health exchange failure, spotlight falls on bad advertising too

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from states that set up their own health care exchanges, it’s that silly advertising doesn’t make a good case for getting health care.

Minnesota, in a short-lived campaign, used Paul Bunyan water skiing into a tree to get people to race to the MNsure website to sign up.

And Oregon? There are no words, really.

Granted the advertising agencies’ goal was to let people know a health care exchange actually existed. But what it didn’t do was answer the obvious question: so what?

When health care was being pushed in Congress, there was no shortage of sad — not to mention, relatable — stories from people who suffered because they didn’t have any. But when it came time to market the state exchanges, those people and those stories disappeared in favor of…..well, there are no words, really.

Maybe the lesson is you can’t sell health care like it’s an Easy Bake Oven.

On his new Daily Show knock-off on HBO, John Oliver skewered the Oregon effort, which has now been shut down. Warning: Obscenities abound. It’s John Oliver, for gosh sakes.

It was just one ad from the ad agency, though.

In defense of his work, Mark Ray, the chief creative officer of the company that created the ads, didn’t help his cause by claiming it was aimed at mothers, as if shallow nonsense was the only way to do it.

You may also think it’s unfair to single out that particular TV spot from the many different ads we created, this one made specifically to connect with mothers, the primary drivers of health care decisions in the family, and always meant to be but one part of a much bigger whole that would reach all Oregonians, regardless of income, ethnicity or geography.

“I don’t think anyone was ever questioning the effectiveness of the ads,” a commenter responded. “They were questioning the focus. He was saying that Portland is easily seduced, shallow and focused on the wrong things. Good feelings over being thorough.”

Like Minnesota, however, Oregon’s main problem was its website didn’t work. Ray said that’s the reason Oregon has given up.

“I didn’t link the commercials to ACA,” counters a commenter on Willamette Week. “I thought it was a really cute tourism campaign.”

(h/t: AdFreak)

  • Gary F
    • Joe

      “Pajama Boy” as a Thing is the greatest projection of the inadequacy the right’s most recent political failures I’ve ever seen, I hope that one never dies.

      • Gary F

        Explain further please

        • Joe

          You didn’t notice the rant about how men aren’t men any more and that the institution of marriage is breaking down RIGHT NOW producing all of these Pajama Boy strawmen? It’s not like no fault divorce had nothing to do with it, of course, this whole MARRIAGE IS IN TROUBLE!!! thing is brand new…

          Or the parts where it seems to neglect the things young people would support in the ACA? Talk about out of touch. Those students at Williamsburg and Ann Arbor are more than likely already covered so they would have no need to talk to this “Pajama Boy” strawman, they would likely be covered under their parents plan if they are 26 or younger (they’re going to college, I bet they have parents who have coverage) OR they would be forced to buy a plan through their University anyway, as it is usually required to attend. And that last part was true even before the Affordable Care Act!

          You know what the best way is to connect with young people? Know nothing about them or what affects their lives! That’s what I meant by projecting their frustrations with this hilarious “Pajama Boy” story around a single advertisement.

          “But… but… two in three dudes ALREADY don’t support Obama because they aren’t manchilds, the rest of you thirds must be a bunch of GIRLS who read The Bell Jar because you can’t get a boyfriend, and we all know girls aren’t people who can’t assert themselves and self-rely their own individual health insurance without a mandate!”

          But the best part is that not only does the author not understand the young people he is presumably trying to influence, he doesn’t understand how risk pools work, or if he does, assumes that young people do not:

          “but most young people will presumably consider Obamacare more rationally and realize it’s a scheme to get them to subsidize insurance costs for older people.”
          Godspeed “Pajama Boy” strawman, keep exposing that Obummercare for what it REALLY is… which is completely different from Medicare Part D that the Republican congress passed and Bush signed. That wasn’t young people subsidizing the insurance costs of premium patented drugs marketed by drug companies to doctors for conditions that old people may or may not have that the drug was never approved for at all! Nope, doesn’t sound like the Hell of Socialized Medicine Ushered In By The Republican Party at all…

  • MrE85

    “Like Minnesota, however, Oregon’s main problem was its website didn’t work. Ray said that’s the reason Oregon has given up.”
    I would hesitate to compare MNsure’s technical problems with the complete and utter disaster that was Cover Oregon. While the MN website had problems, most did get resolved and it is possible to sign up for insurance. Oregon’s site, on the other hand, NEVER worked.
    As you said, Oregon has decided to scrap its entire plan and send its residents to the federal website. Minnesota has chosen to stick with MNsure, and hopefully make it better.

  • MrE85

    I’m not sure the Paul and Babe ads were bad. They certainly got your attention. After the website crashes (and ill-timed vacations by their fearless leader), the light-hearted ads just didn’t feel right.

  • Jim G

    I would have shown a young man playing a racing video game and then transition to him driving his real motorcycle just as recklessly as in the game. Then show… oops…the unaffordable accident. That or any other stupid trick posted on You-tube that testosterone challenged young men often do to prove their manhood. You don’t need health insurance…until you do.

  • boB from Wa

    Having been subjected to those ads last year, I too thought it was a tourism ad (although why it was targeting Oregonians , I couldn’t fathom). Look for the fallout to impact the political campaigns around here this fall.

  • RobMp

    The MN ads were good. They stood out and built awareness. In the wake of the leadership change, the ads failed to shift from building awareness to answering the “so what” question.

    • I wonder if ad people are too enamored with the concept of “branding,” that they miss the real opportunities and challenges — that they focus, then, on creating entertaining, viral ads and miss what they really needed to do.

      In MNSure, the ads didn’t HAVE to build awareness. That was already done — and was continuing to be done — by the news media with constant stories about the health care exchange.

      And proponents of ACA had ceded the messaging to the opponents, so you had an already-skeptical consumer to motivate to buy. The problem is they were also ignorant consumers. Not really their fault but they had bought into the bumper sticker sloganeering of politicians.

      The opportunity to counter the consumer resistance was right there waiting to be hit out of the park. The mother who lost a child because of no access to health care (well checkups are included in the premium), the breast cancer victim who had private health insurance, but had it canceled on her as soon as she filed a claim, the young man in a car accident who’s just 24 and never thought he’d need health insurance, and there he is, in a wheelchair and unable to walk.

      All of these would’ve been compelling and, with a little creativity, could have motivated a skeptical consumer.

      Instead we get children’s stories and singing hippies.

      • Those are good points about awareness-building, but I wonder if part of the issue was that there was a large focus on getting the “young invincible” to sign up for MNSure and I would guess the thinking was many of those folks weren’t paying attention to the news media stories on the health care exchange since they supposedly get all their news from the Daily Show?

        • Maybe, but I don’t really see how Paul Bunyan comedy reaches the invincibles either.

          • True. I have no idea what the thought process behind that was…

      • Jack

        How many people actually watch the ads anymore? If my house is any where near the norm in tv viewing, the channel is changed as soon as it goes to an ad.

        I would have liked to have seen more realistic scenarios presented – the state spent way too much on a cartoon character that makes very little sense to folks who did not grow up in this state.

  • tboom

    I had a marketing professor who constantly repeated: “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising”.
    Probably second fastest would be bad advertising.