A comedy of errors? Health care advertising takes a humorous turn, for better or worse


We all know Mayhem, Allstate’s brand ambassador who personifies the everyday ugliness that unduly convinces us we need auto and home insurance. Of course, there’s Progressive’s Flo. And Geico’s gecko, too.

The Larry, Mo and Curly of home and auto insurance, these branding giants have been poking eyeballs and bonking noggins for years now. It’s their shtick and it works: The competition creates a fruitful market that leaves consumers craving more antics. Plus, the Three Insurance Stooges benefit from the holy grail of advertising efforts – brand loyalty.

Humor as a tactic of persuasion has been around since the ancient times. Plato, the Stoics and many others who came far before us argued humor and laughter reduced one’s ability to control self-restraint. That’s great for advertisers, but perhaps not always the best strategy if we consider recent data from a focus group conducted by Flint for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

The Fourth Stooge?

Allstate, Progressive and Geico also seem to have inspired health insurance advertising. States like Minnesota and Colorado borrowed from the Stooge playbook and leveraged humorous, tongue-in-cheek creative to hook what many unjustifiably feel is an increasingly attention deficient young adult audience.

Let’s have a look at a few campaigns, shall we?

MNSure: A Clutzy Bunyan

Minnesota’s state insurance marketplace, aptly dubbed MNSure, employs an over-the-top, accident-prone Paul Bunyan statue. The “Land of 10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance” campaign uses humor to shift the focus away from the controversy and debate around the ACA and its critics.

Wellmark: Poking fun at the federal website debacle

Instead of hiding behind the controversy of the ACA, Wellmark had fun with it. The Blue Cross Blue Shield independent licensee used the issues associated with the federal marketplace website to promote its “There’s More Than One Place to Buy Health Insurance” campaign in South Dakota and Iowa.

Keg stands in Colorado

Perhaps the edgiest campaign to come out of health care creative strategy hails from Colorado. Sponsored by several Colorado-based nonprofit organizations, the “Got Insurance?” campaign really hones in on the youthful mistakes of college kids and the woes of young motherhood.

Humor in health care advertising

Happy medium: BCBSND

Like many other insurance companies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota took the initiative to market its products independently from BCBSND appealed to residents who value intelligence over slap-stick humor, and created a campaign around making smart choices.

The reasoning behind this approach stemmed from the results of a Flint Group focus group, which provided some surprising insights into the lives of 25-34 year olds.

Funny isn’t going away

Some would argue that humor is a universal mode of persuasion; others say you could make one segment laugh while repelling another. We know humor works for Allstate, Progressive and Geico. For health insurance, however, it’s simply too early in the game to tell what works for certain. For now, we’ll wait for the hard data before we come to any conclusions. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy our fourth Stooge.

How do you feel about the use of humor in health insurance advertising? Share with us in the comments below.

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