We Shield You

By Harry Roman-Torres
Agency: Taxi NYC
Client: Blue Shield of California
Category: 2007


THE SITUATION Blue Shield of California had ceased investing in advertising in 2001. Since that period, the health insurance industry continued to fall short of consumer expectations by offering less but charging more. As a result, frustration with the system was dramatically high, while trust in the industry bottomed to an all-time low.

Dwarfed by competitors, who had been consistently investing in advertising to draw attention away from these market realities, Blue Shield struggled to maintain brand relevance and market share. In addition, unlike in other states, Blue Shield and Blue Cross are two separate companies in California. Consumers often confused aconsidered the two companies to be the same, a phenomenon known as Blues Confusion. As a result, the brand suffered from an identity crisis and its unique position in the marketplace remained unknown.

Our challenge was to launch the company’s new positioning, centered on ease, in a way that drove brand attribute scores and recognition levels up while bringing Blues Confusion down. While we felt that Blue Shield’s idea of driving messages of ease was a strong foundation, we asked ourselves how we win over a hostile room when we’re seen as the problem.

AUDIENCE INSIGHTS: DISARMAMENT In a Harris Interactive poll released in May, 2006, consumers rated health- and managed-care companies just above oil and tobacco, the two lowest-ranking categories. When asked how different industries serve their customers, even drug companies earned more respect than health insurers. Despite the millions being poured into advertising by the competition, no one was doing anything to address these issues.

Through our own research, we found that consumers were tired of the platitudes being handed out by health insurance companies. They were angry and disgruntled and believed very little of what health insurance companies told them. Just the fact that a health insurer might be using the consumers’ money for an advertising campaign, rather than spending it on more affordable healthcare, was enough to tip them over the edge. As you might imagine, this caused significant problems moderating creative development groups!

We recognized that in order to begin any dialogue with consumers about how our products make things easier for them, we had to accept our share of the blame for a broken system. We believed that honesty was the best policy and that this approach would be both disarming and truthful.

CATEGORY INSIGHTS: DO THE OPPOSITE In order to create fresh, new work, you need to take inventory of how not to do it. We studied the competition intensely and noticed a formula repeated over and over, ad nauseum.

Start off with a shot of a healthy, virile person jogging on a beach, and then show that person eating a salad with their friends. Cue the voiceover message acknowledging the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle. Wrap up with an animated logo and a call to action.

Our audience research taught us that most people can see through the ruse of a health insurance company telling them to be healthy. The healthier you are, the less they have to pay out. We told our creatives to steer clear of this area and to, instead, focus on dealing with customer frustration.

STRATEGIC PLATFORM Blue Shield had invested heavily in a new brand positioning centered on ease. Ease is a compelling message in a difficult category such as health insurance. Knowing how the audience felt about health insurance providers and how the category spoke to them, we were inspired to address this issue in a slightly roundabout way.

In order to break through this mistrust and gain any credibility with our audience, communication had to accomplish two things: Acknowledge there’s a problem: A crucial first step in such a hostile category is to acknowledge that we are culpable and not try to dodge the issue. Signal change: Just as you would in a relationship, explain to your partner how you intend to fix the problem.

With these principles in mind, our strategy became:

Blue Shield of California is making health insurance healthier.

This idea took the client’s positioning of making things easier and shifted it in a way that included how the audience felt about the industry. We would no longer speak about the benefits of being healthy and of living life to the fullest. We would take the moment, instead, to admit our culpability and then explain how we intend to make things better. Our message would signal a promise to customers that they should expect things to be different with Blue Shield, one issue at a time.

BRAND TONALITY Knowing what to say is half the battle; knowing how to say it is just as important. We knew we had to win over a genuinely, perhaps rightfully, disgruntled audience. Using a direct tone would have been too off-putting and wouldn’t necessarily have helped us gain trust. Humor, on the other hand—the kind that is self-deprecating and candid—is very useful in these types of situations to disarm anger and frustration. By using humor, we could potentially begin a new dialogue with consumers. But how far could we go?

Fortunately for us, we discovered some interesting possibilities during our audience research. We learned that people were willing to share, among strangers, very intimate and personal stories of how their health insurance company had failed them. Those failures were often so unbelievable and audacious that they verged on hyperbole. When you can make someone laugh about getting a referral for a vasectomy when you went into the clinic for a sore throat, then you know you’re onto something.

CREATIVE PLATFORM The strategic thought of making health insurance healthier was demonstrated to the creative team through a montage of consumer visuals and quotes centered on how the industry was failing them. The goal of making a health insurance brand with a human side was paramount. We also talked frequently with them about ways of overcoming the confusion between Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Without a solution to this, any advertising we did would benefit our competitor. The creative team found inspiration in the new corporate identity and came up with the idea of using the shield to protect consumers from the unhealthy aspects of health insurance.

We Shield You.

The resulting campaign used candid and often humorous portrayals of people’s insurance experiences. Each television spot opened on a white background with “we shield you from” appearing on-screen; a head appeared and began speaking. Embarrassing stories about backless hospital gowns, and confusion between codes for tonsil removal and circumcisions formed the backbone of the campaign. A voiceover paid off how the company was improving those situations.

CHAT BOX While traditional media is still the quickest way to get mass reach, it’s a space the competition dominated. Rather than letting this stop us, we saw it as an opportunity. Our campaign was focused on publicizing people’s stories-why not give them a real voice?

We designed and set up a “Chat Box,” a mobile video recording booth, in major California cities to let consumers share their own experiences in their own words. The box was designed to recreate the TV commercial, whereby the consumer’s head would float on a white background. Over a hundred people shared their stories with us, of which 17 were then featured on a microsite. PR soon ensured that many thousands of people would get a chance to hear about the Chat Box.

RESULTS Sympathizing with consumer frustrations and taking responsibility for them has proven to be a potent approach. In this environment, we found an audience aching for, and willing to believe in, a health insurance brand that could make the health insurance experience less painful.

The “We Shield You” campaign launched in October of 2006 and the awareness levels proved to be the highest for the company in over a decade, despite being drastically outspent. Unaided advertising awareness among Blue Shield members increased by 100%, up from 11% in June, 2006 to 22% by the end of the year. Among prospective clients, unaided advertising awareness increased by 33%, while its competitors saw no gains. The company also experienced high total unaided brand awareness among employers (57%) and insurance brokers (67%), both important segments of this industry. The campaign pushed brand scores such as: easy to work with, easy to understand, comfortable, reliable and friendly well above market norms. Blues Confusion was high in 2006, with 50% of consumers and 25% of employers reporting they were unaware that Blue Shield and Blue Cross were two separate companies. In early 2007, the confusion managed to stabilize, suggesting a decrease in confusion among our audience. The PR coverage of the Chat Box alone managed to secure over 4 million positive media impressions during a one-week period.

Above all, the greatest measure of success was in handing over the campaign to our consumers.


WHAT ARE WE SELLING? A better way of doing business.

The health insurance industry in California (really everywhere) is in a sorry state. It’s perceived as unaffordable, complicated, unresponsive and self-serving. As a result, customers are frustrated with the whole industry. Blue Shield of California is committed to making it easier, to being more understanding, to acting less like an institution and more like a human being.

We need to build on the last campaign and present Blue Shield as a company that is working at making things easier within their own house.

WHAT ARE WE OUT TO ACCOMPLISH? Increase unaided brand awareness Improve brand image scores (crystal clear, streamlined, relevant, human) Reduce “blues confusion” (Blue Shield is a different company than Blue Cross in California)

WHO DO WE WANT TO CONNECT WITH? You and me; even though a large number of people get their health insurance through their employers, this is a consumer-facing campaign.

WHAT DO THEY THINK/FEEL NOW ABOUT WHAT WE’RE SELLING? People don’t like and don’t trust the industry. In fact, it’s one of the least trusted industries in America. As such, expectations are low for improvement.

WHAT’S THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO LEAVE THEM WITH? Blue Shield of California is making health insurance healthier.

WHAT CAN WE OFFER AS SUPPORT FOR THIS? Each of our ads needs to focus on one of the following “proof points”:

  1. CUSTOMER SERVICE/EASE We make it easier to reach a live representative We’re making it easier to have your problems resolved in just one call

  2. LARGEST NETWORK OF DOCTORS We offer one of the largest networks of doctors, specialist and hospitals in the state You can fill your prescriptions at over 95% of the pharmacies in the state

  3. VALUE/AFFORDABLE We offer a wide range of affordable plans We’re continuing to add new, more affordable/low-cost plans to our portfolio Through our generic drug formulary offerings, we’re making it easier to save money without sacrificing the quality and effectiveness of your medication

  4. ONLINE TOOLS Our award-winning website makes it easy to find the information and resources you need online – finding a provider checking benefits online quote We’re making it fast and easy for you to get a quote online

  5. EASE Blue Shield offers dental, vision and medical plans to meet all your insurance needs Talk to a nurse 24/7

WHAT’S THE BRAND’S TONE? Human - open, honest and friendly Crystal clear - be the brand that talks in plain language Streamlined – direct and to the point Relevant – we look at things from the customer point of view

Use of humor to break down the barriers and encourage people to listen to what we have to say is key

WHAT’S REQUIRED? Integrated ideas that work for: TV Interactive Guerilla