CANNES: United Healthcare, the healthcare provider, has effectively leveraged humour as a means of engaging consumers in a classic low-interest category.

Andrew Mackenzie, United Healthcare’s CMO, discussed the brand’s on-going “Ways In” campaign during a session at the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

This initiative, he reported, involves light-hearted TV ads featuring comedic injuries – such as a couple that ends up battered and bruised after attempting to recreate a famous scene from “Dirty Dancing” – alongside the accompanying medical code.

In addressing the logic behind this approach, which is atypical for the category in terms of tone and subject matter, as well as being comparatively light on branding, Mackenzie suggested the primary goal was to engage viewers.

“What you really get is 22 seconds of entertainment for eight seconds of getting the privilege to talk briefly about what you want to talk about. But if you don't do a good job for those 22 seconds, they're gone,” he said in explaining this strategy. (For more details, read WARC’s exclusive report: United Healthcare injects humor into healthcare marketing.)

These tactics were inspired by operators like Aflac, Allstate and Geico, which have successfully broken out of being seen as a “burden” – a description that consumers apply to most insurance firms and financial-services providers.

While adopting a mascot, as these enterprises had done, was not appropriate for United Healthcare, the broader tips gleaned from these examples were essential, especially in steering it away from early, explicit branding in ads.

“In fact, we did testing later on, because we were struggling with brand memorability, and we tried to move up our brand earlier into the conversation,” Mackenzie said.

“And we just got hammered by consumers. The minute they thought it was a health insurance ad, they were out. So this was the key insight.”

Most ads in the category fail to stand out because they slavishly follow such long-established norms, from making it quickly apparent that healthcare is under discussion, to focusing on a diverse group of consumers, to ensuring they feature babies.

“Then, they end with the logo,” said Mackenzie. “You can play pretty much brand roulette with any one of these commercials, and they show up the same way.”

Data sourced from WARC