Whether it's Harvard University crimson or University of Michigan maize and blue, color is a powerful trademark.
That fact hasn't been lost on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Delaware, which is in the midst of a marketing blitz touting the "bluing" of its products.
Out are bland product names like point-of-service or HMO plan, and in are jazzier names like BlueSelect and BlueCare.
The Delaware Blues reflects a trend that's sweeping the nation's 55 Blues plans. So far, 42 plans have attempted some type of Blues branding. Like Delaware, 20 plans have gone totally Blue, renaming all their insurance products, according to Diane Iorio, vice president of brand enhancement at the national Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in Chicago.
That approach is understandable because the Blues has become a household name.
"It is probably the most recognizable name in healthcare," says Joe Marconi, a marketing and communications consultant in Western Springs, Ill. "It's reassuring to consumers to know they have the tradition and stability and reputation of (a Blues) plan behind them."
In its own research, the national Blues association found that the Blues name goes a long way with consumers.
For example, in a random survey, consumers rated insurance products with the Blues name higher in security and quality. And 62% of respondents preferred a plan with Blues in its name to an identical one without it, Iorio says.
"You have this army of names out there that sound alike, but our plans are the only ones that can put `Blue' in front of (them)," she says. "You need every edge you can get."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona says it is reaping the benefits of a bluing campaign it undertook more than two years ago.
The 650,000-enrollee plan has seen its membership ranks swell by almost 14% since last year. The Arizona plan operates an HMO that claimed about 7,000 enrollees in 1995 when it was called Community Health Plan. Today it's called BlueSelect and has about 76,000 enrollees, says Richard Hannon, senior vice president for marketing and provider affairs at the Phoenix-based plan.
"It's been very successful," Hannon says of the branding effort. "At a very opportune time, with uncertainty about who was who in the marketplace...we went back to one of the best-known names in the United States."
But not everyone puts such high stock in the Blues name. For example, the former Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio says losing the legendary trademark hasn't hurt its enrollment.
The Cleveland-based plan has operated as Medical Mutual of Ohio since it was booted by the national Blues last year for planning to sell its assets to for-profit Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. Eventually regulators blocked the deal.
Although the plan lost 92,000 of its 1.4 million enrollees with the ouster, it says it has gained about 90,000 new customers since then.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Delaware, based in Wilmington, kicked off its Blues marketing blitz last summer.
The 212,000-enrollee plan says it wants to reinforce to consumers that despite a failed consolidation with Newark-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey, it is still a strong business (April 28, 1997, p. 13).
"The Blues brand is something to really capitalize on," says Kerin Hearn, director of corporate communications for the Delaware plan. "It is what gives your product a lot of marketability and salability. We wanted to do everything we could to promote that name."
Hearn says the marketing campaign was created with the Wil-mington-based advertising agency Aloysius, Butler & Clark.
Besides a preponderance of the color blue, the campaign uses print ads with slogans such as "Coverage this good comes along once in a blue moon" and "Choose the blue that's right for you." The ad also lists the Blues plan's different products under a painter's palette.
The campaign, which is expected to run through this year, targets consumers and businesses through advertisements in newspapers, on television, radio and billboards, and through direct mailings.
Although Hearn would not disclose the cost of the campaign, she says it seems to be paying off in new business. After just one promotion, the plan delivered quotes to 200 small businesses, she says. And anecdotally, Blues executives are hearing good things about the campaign's effects.
"It's a good long-term investment," Hearn says. "This is the most comprehensive campaign we've had."
But it does have its limits. For instance, the Delaware plan hasn't doused its headquarters in blue paint -- not yet at least. "That's a good idea though," Hearn says.