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UnitedHealth ad campaign hopes to hit consumer's funny bones

Taking cues from Geico, insurer bets on laughs to sell health insurance plans

UnitedHealth might be establishing the new normal for insurers' marketing campaigns as it launched this week an expansive advertising campaign that attempts to make the dry topic of health insurance funny and appealing to consumers, reported the Star-Tribune.

UnitedHealth isn't alone in attempting to use humor to sell health insurance. Covered California, for example, launched an ad campaign last year featuring comedians trying to make the Affordable Care Act funny, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Insurers overall are boosting their advertisements now that the market is more consumer-driven, Steven Wehrenberg, a former chief executive with the Campbell Mithun ad agency and current professor at the University of Minnesota, told the newspaper.

Medical and dental insurance advertisement spending has grown by more than 20 percent since 2012, to $905 million last year. Insurers, state exchanges and the federal government sunk $194 million on ads just in the few weeks before the first health insurance exchange enrollment ended.

UnitedHealth's new campaign includes TV and digital ads showing examples of injuries, including a middle-aged couple injured while reenacting a scene from the movie "Dirty Dancing," as well as the corresponding medical code.

"There's an opportunity there to take something that seems ordinary in a complex system with thousands and thousands of medical codes, and bring some humor to it that people could relate to," Andrew Mackenzie, UnitedHealth's chief marketing officer for commercial and Medicaid business, told the Star-Tribune.

UnitedHealth was partly inspired by the auto insurance industry, whose ads have shown that humor can work in a similar market. "In days gone by, nobody would ever do a funny ad in auto insurance," Wehrenberg said. "Then Geico came with … all different types of humor."

Overall, the insurer's goal was "breaking out from the monotony of boring benefit selling," Mackenzie said. "We need to earn the time and attention of the consumer by giving them something they want to watch. And we earn the right, then, to talk about something that we hope they'll care more about."

To learn more:
- read the Star-Tribune article
- watch the "Dirty Dancing"-themed ad (video)

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