It's a challenge, said Mary Sienko, marketing and communications director for MNSure, the Minnesota exchange, because of the different demographic groups her organization is trying to reach. “If we were just trying to reach young males in their 20s, then we would be very focused on just using one or two tactics,” she said. “But our uninsured population really runs the gamut.”
Some of the Minnesota messaging is adjusted for specific communities, including translated materials for Spanish, Hmong and Somali. But the central campaign, which is attracting attention, as well as some backlash, includes slapstick-funny ads starring North Woods icons Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. The ads include Bunyan sledding groin-first into a tree and chopping his own leg with an ax, which has drawn some controversy.
But Sienko said the silly nature of the ads is a key part of the strategy. “We wanted to lighten it up a bit because here in Minnesota, it's been a pretty serious and political topic,” she said.
Cover Oregon, that state's exchange, released commercials in July that look more like ads by the state's tourism bureau, mentioning the exchange and its website only at the end. They feature Oregon musicians performing original songs celebrating the state and its residents. The cost of the ads from the campaign's first phase totals $3.2 million.
“They were really our hello to Oregon,” said Amy Fauver, chief communications officer for Cover Oregon. “They were simply to build awareness of the brand.” She said that was critical because at the beginning of 2013, no more than 10% of the state's residents had even heard of Cover Oregon. That's a challenge every state insurance exchange is facing, and it's an even bigger problem for the federally facilitated exchanges in states that declined to run their own, where in some cases state officials are actively working against the exchange.