HMO Targets the Funny Bone

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Preferred Health Systems Inc. is running a multi-channel ad campaign using whimsical exaggeration and gentle reproach to generate a conversation about rising healthcare costs.

The HMO's same-town agency, Associated, Wichita, KS, created an effort where several Web addresses do double duty as headlines on teal-green billboards featuring the white-lettered addresses. The addresses also link to microsites dealing with issues like nutrition, sleep, urgent care/emergency services, stress and red tape and paperwork.

"It's really a campaign to discuss how to lower healthcare costs targeted at consumers, healthcare providers, doctors, employers and insurance companies," As-sociated creative director Bob Rickert said.

Preferred's campaign taps a hot-button issue. A Gallup poll last year found more than 70 percent of Americans dissatisfied with the availability of affordable healthcare. Human resources consultancy Towers Perrin estimated employee contributions for family health insurance coverage last year at $196 monthly, up from $160 a month in 2003 and $134 monthly in 2002.

Employers also are feeling the pain. Their health insurance premiums grew 12 percent in 2004, the fifth consecutive year of double-digit cost increases.

But rather than use shock-and-awe tactics, Preferred's agency chose humor to press the point. Consider the Web addresses:,,, and

Other addresses are,,,, and

Local-area employers are being targeted with print ads in business newspapers carrying headlines like, and Each headline and site is designed to make a point about healthcare and its spiraling costs to all constituencies.

Copy on the home page reads, "Don't let your dislike for one vegetable stop you from trying others. Take a chance. Try a vegetable you haven't tasted for a long time. What you might have hated as a kid might turn out to be a new favorite. Eating right is a great way to stay healthy and keep your health care costs to a minimum."

A prominent line below the opening copy says, "Find out what else you can do to manage the cost of health care for your family." Visitors are invited to click through. They also can click on four circular tabs to learn more about broccoli, managing costs and receiving tips. They can forward the site page to a friend or family member.

Clicking on that link takes visitors to a designated page on Preferred Health's site at The page offers four ways to manage healthcare costs, including staying within the network of doctors and hospitals and asking questions. Consumers also should ensure emergencies truly are emergencies and ask for generic drugs over costlier brand-name varieties.

Visitors then can click on links if they already are Preferred Health plan members or if they wish to join.

Other sites have a similar template, but use different metaphors. Visitors to are reminded of how exercise habits affect their healthcare costs. Also, informs human resources executives about how Preferred Health offers regular updates of their costs to avoid being surprised with a large premium at year's end.

Parts of the campaign began in April. Television commercials debut next month.

"The goal here isn't to sign up people, but it's to get them involved in the process," Rickert said. "Along the way they can sign up if they want to."

Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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