Oregon really threw down the gauntlet earlier this summer when Cover Oregon launched its quirky and highly entertaining TV ads.

Thursday, Covered California fired its first volleys. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, assured reporters during a press conference that “you won’t be seeing movie stars, you won’t be seeing rock stars.”

That’s right, we won’t see movie stars or rock stars. Instead, we see signs. Yes, signs. That’s what the ad is titled: “signs.”

To be fair, Lee completed his “you won’t be seeing rock stars” thought with “you’ll be seeing real people.” But mostly we see signs at the beginning of the ad. There’s a lot of somewhat wonky voiceover about “equal access to quality health insurance,” “financial assistance” and “pre-existing conditions.” We heard none of those things in the Cover Oregon ads — instead the ads left me with a wonderful feeling about how great Oregon is  — and therefore how great Cover Oregon must be. Cover Oregon seemed to embrace the concept of branding. Is it too late to call in Don Draper of “Mad Men”? Or maybe Peggy Olson?

But not everyone is reacting the way I am. Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email that he appreciated that “these ads emphasized actual protections and the subsidies, in contrast, for example, to the Vermont ads that don’t really mention anything.” Like Oregon, Vermont also took a more generic approach. Anthony Wright of Health Access liked the ads, too. “You can have the beautiful textures of the California coast and Central Valley, while also providing concrete information consumers need,” he said.

Judge for yourself:

In addition, here at KQED, we’re not sure if we’re flattered or concerned that Covered California’s tagline appears to be “Welcome to a new state of health.” Full disclaimer that this blog has had nothing to do with the Covered California marketing campaign, nor do we endorse Covered California. Hey, since we’re busy covering Covered California, will they return the favor by pointing back to us every now and then? We’re always looking for new sources of traffic.

Covered California also released a Spanish-language ad.

Now, if I could speak Spanish, I could critique the Spanish version more competently. But even with only two years of middle-school Spanish, I can tell I like this one better. Smiling real people — as Lee promised — at every turn saying “Bienvenidos!” People are welcoming Covered California into their homes and businesses. This ad made me feel much better about Covered California. No signs.

These ads will roll out in limited markets (San Diego, Sacramento and Chico/Redding) starting Monday and statewide after Oct. 1, the day the Covered California marketplace opens. Lee says Covered California has $80 million to spend on media and marketing between now and December 2014. Don Draper, I bet you’d like a bit of that.

The ads and other materials are to help with outreach to the state’s 7 million uninsured. Some of the uninsured are undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Some 5.6 million people could buy health insurance through the marketplace, and about half of those people are eligible for subsidies to help them afford insurance. Lee said their goal for the first year is to enroll 1.4 million of those “subsidy-eligible” individuals.

Calling Don Draper: Covered California TV Ads Are Out 29 August,2013Lisa Aliferis

  • Ins Watcher

    There is a new independent forum about the California Health Insurance Exchange Marketplace. It’s at http://wwwcovercalforum.com Looks helpful.

  • Cali

    Hi Lisa – I’m afraid I just don’t get your position on this “Signs” ad. You describe extremely straight-forward voice over, conveying the exact benefit of getting health insurance through Covered California (“those who need financial assistance will get it” and “nobody will be denied because of a pre-existing condition”) as “wonky?” As I understand the word, wonky means “off-center” “or “askew,” right? So, since the Covered Oregon ads barely address the benefits and might even be associated more with a tourism ad than a health care ad, wouldn’t that actually be the wonkier approach? You ask to invoke a Don Draper or a Peggy Olson, but the goal of these ads aren’t to try to sell one brand of car over another, they are meant to very distinctly express the benefits of an entirely new, and complicated, health care initiative. Shouldn’t you, of all people, applaud a more direct effort to do so?

    • Thank you for your comment. As I described in my post, I had a visceral reaction to both the Covered California ads and the Cover Oregon ads. But I also included in the post the perspective of two people whose reactions differed from mine, people who had great preference for the California ads over the Oregon ads. I also invited readers to judge for themselves, which you seem to have done. Your point about building brand over describing a new product is a fair one.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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