Minnesota Obamacare campaign takes hits on screen and off


In a Minnesota campaign scheduled to launch Monday, August 26, a Paul Bunyan statue water skis into one tree, sleds into another, chops his own leg with an axe and gets attacked by angry woodpeckers.

But that’s nothing compared to the hits it’s already taking.

Critics are complaining about its cost, its strategy, its execution, its content and its potentially misleading omissions.

The $9 million campaign – part of the more than $1 billion to be spent on Obamacare enrollment advertising this year – is sponsored by MNSure (pronounced Minshure), the state’s Obamacare exchange. Its stated objective is to get some 1.3 million young, healthy Minnesotan adults to sign up.

It positions the federal health plan as a local Minnesota one, ripping off the state’s slogan (Land of 10,000 Lakes) to push “10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance” – without, incidentally, mentioning a single reason. And it features replicas of Bemidji’s (population: 13,431) statues of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe.

Unique to Minnesota? Not really

Brian Kroenig, executive creative director at BBDO Proximity, which created the campaign, said the picked the Paul Bunyan statue because “We were looking to what is unique to Minnesota.”

Too bad their spokesstatue isn’t.

The Bemidji statue is far from America’s only one. And it’s not even the biggest.

Portland, Oregon; Bangor, Maine; Klamath, California; Ossineke, Michigan; Lakewood, Wisconsin; and Brainerd, also in Minnesota, each have statues of Paul Bunyan and claim him as their own.

Klamath’s, at 49 feet, is the tallest, while Portland and Bangor’s (31 feet) tie for not-too-close second.

Paul Bunyan as Mr. Bill

On radio and television channels, bus cards, outdoor boards, Minneapolis skyway signage, health club posters and online, the legendary lumberjack will blunder into one trauma after another, much like Mr. Bill   in the old Saturday Night Live series.

Rita Albrecht, Bemidji’s mayor, is not amused. “When we first saw (the ads), we thought: What?” she told the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press. After tweeting about the “tackiness of some images” and how the ads were “offensive,” she told the paper, “To have him be a doofus, it doesn’t make sense for us. We kind of think of Paul as stately and handsome and representing a proud era of timber production in our community.”

The impossible dream?

The MNSure campaign’s stated objective is to sign up 1.3 million young, healthy adults Minnesota adults for Obamacare.

The “young, healthy” part is critical, because except for trauma – which emergency rooms are required by law to treat first and worry about payment for later – this cohort statistically has little need for healthcare. Their premiums, which will be almost pure revenue with few if any claims, are to subsidize care for older, less healthy and, by the way, wealthier Minnesotans.

But simple arithmetic suggests that there may not be that many young, healthy adults in the state – and that the campaign might have to achieve mathematicall impossible results to enroll them.

Minnesota’s total population is 5.3 million. Of that total, according to 2012 US Census estimates, some 23.7 percent, or 1.3 million, are under 18, and therefore carried on their parents’ health insurance policies. Another 13.6 percent, or 0.72 million, are 65 or over, and thus eligible for Medicare, not Obamacare. That leaves 3.28 million. Of those, a certain number are going to be 18 to 25, and therefore able to ride on their parents’ coverage. And that’s not counting those who are already insured and were told that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

Neglecting those last two, uncounted segments, that means that the campaign would need a virtually unachievable 39.6 success rate.

But it gets worse.

According to CBS affiliate WCCO, “There are hundreds of thousands of people without insurance in Minnesota.”

Only “[a]n estimated 9 percent of the state’s population lacks health insurance,” the Post Pioneer reports. That’s 0.48 million.

“Hundreds of thousands” and 0.48 million are both less than 1.3 million. So to meet its goal, the campaign would have to achieve a 110 percent success rate – which is impossible unless some folks really stock up on policies big time.

Missing the target?

In addition to having an unrealistic target, critics claim that the messaging may go over the heads of the target they have.

“How many young healthy people even know who Paul Bunyon and Babe are,” Rep. Peggy Scott, assistant minority leader of the State House of Representatives, asked WCCO.

Ironically, the campaign’s “casting” may resonate most with older (and statistically less healthy) Minnesotans, whose claims are more likely to outweigh their premium revenues, or who may be old enough for Medicare and therefore ineligible.

False advertising?

The campaign has raised a stink even bigger than Paul Bunyan – not so much for what it says, but for what critics complain it doesn’t.

One thing it doesn’t say, Rep. Scott notes, is that it’s really asking people to sign up for Obamacare, which poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans don’t want. “It’s going to be more expensive. You’re going to have fewer choices and there’s not going to be much privacy involved here,” she said.

“MNsure exists primarily because the health law says everyone must enroll in health insurance,” agrees Dave Racer, spokesman for the Agents Coalition for Health Reform. “The ad campaign says nothing about the mandate.”

And one organization – the Citizens Council for Health Freedom – has already launched a counter-campaign, starting with an outdoor board within easy walking distance of MNSure’s booth at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.

Punnily characterizing the MNSure Paul Bunyan campaign as “a tall tale,” their executive director, Twila Brase, told  KARE-TV “[T]hey are not being truthful with the public with what they are buying on the exchange. It’s really a government healthcare program.”

All this is doubtless what executive creative director Kroenig had in mind when he pooh-poohed all the “deep, hard-hitting, I would hasten to say even kind of worrisome messages” that he claimed “this health insurance category…is fraught with.”

Rep. Scott, who’s no fan of Obamacare, suggested a campaign with a different Minnesota spokesman. “I’m thinking go back to Bob Dylan,” she said. “He’s a folklore guy, right? And he has a song called ‘Everything Is Broken.’ I think that might be more appropriate.”

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