Paul Bunyan and MNsure – The Strategy behind Healthcare Reform’s Odd Couple

20 Aug


    Every good advertising campaign needs a novel idea and a strategy.  The new ads for the State of Minnesota’s emerging healthcare exchange called MNsure have both.

    Minneapolis-based ad agency BBDO Proximity knew that to make Minnesotans aware of the changing face of healthcare coverage any ad campaign needed a face of its own to stand out.  The face they found stands 10 feet tall, wears a flannel shirt and carries an axe.  Oh, and his best friend is a blue ox named Babe.  Both are immortalized in Minnesota folk lore and sculpted in repose at one of the state’s most photographed sites in Bemidji.   

MNsure ad featuring Paul Bunyan water skiing

MNsure ad featuring Paul Bunyan water skiing

    For BBDO’s creative team, it was the equivalent of cutting down a tree with one swing of an axe.    “First of all, they’re very recognizable,” said BBDO Proximity’s Executive Creative Director Brian Kroening. 

    “I think most Minnesotans at one time or another have seen Paul and Babe.  And we thought it would be very interesting if our idea would put them to work on behalf of all Minnesotans,” said Kroening. 

Figure 1

Figure 1

    The genius behind the campaign is making Paul as human as possible.  The opening ad in the campaign features Paul attempting to water ski on Lake Waconia.  The results are not good.  Therein lies the chief message argument—not only is Minnesota the land of ten thousand lakes, it’s also the land of ten thousand reasons to have health insurance.  The highly strategic message peels as easily as bark form a birch tree. (Figure 1)  The campaign will follow with more ads putting Paul & Babe in familiar Minnesota schemas that include a gym, sledding, even ice fishing. 

Figure 2

Figure 2

     There are several psychological communication theories to suggest the campaign is positioned to succeed with consumers.  Foremost among them is Richard Petty’s Elaboration Likelihood Model.  The symbolic visual metaphor of Paul Bunyan on water skis is easy for the viewer to peripherally process and elaborate about placing himself in the same role.  The more the viewer thinks about the symbolic tie, the more he is likely to consider the message argument that health insurance is important and MNsure is a place to shop for it. (Figure 2)

     Extensive new advertising research by Werner Reinartz and Peter Saffert from the University of Cologne suggests that using elaborative metaphors is the most effective tool in successful messaging.   Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Reinartz and Saffert show how advertisements that combine elaboration with originality are the most effective in achieving strategic objectives.

     Of course, there’s also humor.   

     “Well, our goal is to get awareness first and foremost,” said Kroening.

     “We think humor is going to stand out more than anything, and we thing people are going to want to see the version over and over again and we hope that they act on it.  That’s our goal, the action.  We love to change behavior for our clients.”  

MNsure ad featuring Paul Bunyan in a doctor's office

MNsure ad featuring Paul Bunyan in a doctor’s office

     It’s a big goal.  MNsure Executive Director April Todd-Malmlov says the campaign is targeting 25-percent of Minnesotans, or 1.3 million people who either don’t have health insurance, or want a better deal on the coverage they already have.  The MNsure marketplace goes online October 1st for health care coverage starting January 1, 2014.   Ultimately, MNsure and BBDO Proximity will measure success by how many people sign up.

    “We wanted this to be a noticeable, simple message that there is hope for all Minnesotans,” said Kroening. “We wanted to break through and do it with a wink, but there is a very serious message and an action on the other end of it.”

    Can’t wait to see Paul do the Bush Lake Ski Jump.

Paul Bunyan Tree

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