UnitedHealth Group, Inc.

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UnitedHealth Group, Inc.

UnitedHealth Group Center
9900 Bren Road East
Minnetonka, Minnesota 55343
Telephone: (952) 936-1300
Fax: (952) 936-7430
Web site: www.unitedhealthgroup.com



UnitedHealth Group, Inc., founded in 1974 as Charter Med Inc., was at the top of the health-insurance business in 2003, providing to 40 million consumers services that included a health maintenance organization (HMO), administrative support for companies providing their own insurance, and specialized services for Medicare beneficiaries. Financially the company was also at a high point, with revenues increasing from $11.8 billion in 1997 to an estimated $29 billion in 2003. But UnitedHealthcare, the company's business segment that served as an HMO, was suffering an identity crisis. Although UnitedHealthcare counted nearly eight million members, it believed that it had low brand awareness, no brand equity, and little brand definition among consumers. The HMO provider was also concerned about consumers' negative perceptions of health maintenance organizations.

To build brand awareness and brand identity as well as to reverse consumers' opinions that HMOs were more concerned about rate increases and benefits reductions than patient care, UnitedHealthcare released a marketing campaign in 2003. A pilot campaign with the theme and tagline "It Just Makes Sense" was introduced in three target markets. Created by Austin, Texas-based GSD&M, which had been UnitedHealthcare's agency since 2000, the campaign included television and radio spots and newspaper print ads. Budget information specific to the campaign was unavailable, but Adweek reported that the account was estimated at $25 to $30 million when GSD&M won it.

The humorous advertisements, which featured people caught in different situations that guaranteed they would need an HMO in the end, were a success. Not only did the campaign achieve its goals of increasing brand awareness and strengthening brand identity, but in 2004 "It Just Makes Sense" was broadened into UnitedHealthcare's first national campaign. The campaign was also awarded a Silver EFFIE in 2005 for helping to position UnitedHealthcare as an "innovative leader in health care coverage."


Charter Med Inc. was founded in 1974; three years later United Healthcare Corp. was created and acquired Charter Med. The company's name was changed in 1998 to UnitedHealth Group, and through a strategic realignment UnitedHealthcare became one of six independent but linked businesses operating under the UnitedHealth Group banner, which also included Americhoice, Ovations, Uniprise, Ingenix, and Specialized Care Services. Each business segment provided its own unique services: Americhoice focused on consumers enrolled in Medicare and other government-sponsored programs; Ovations provided services to Americans 50 years and older; Uniprise offered administrative services to self-insured companies; Ingenix provided software and information services to doctors and other healthcare professionals; and Specialized Care Services was a collection of specialty business subsidiaries offering specific health and wellness benefits, such as chiropractic, dental, vision, life, accident, and critical illness plans. UnitedHealthcare was an HMO with almost eight million individual, small business, and midsize business members.

In 2002 UnitedHealth Group's net income climbed 48 percent to $1.35 billion on a revenue increase of 6.7 percent to $25 billion. By 2003 the company had grown to become the largest health insurer in the United States, providing services, coverage, and products that affected more than 40 million consumers. Despite its business diversification and solid financial standing, some analysts were questioning the quality of the company's earnings—which were partly based on double-digit premium increases—and the sustainability of its growth in a health-care environment that some Wall Street insiders believed was heading toward a fall.


Typically the female head of household oversaw her family's health-care needs, from taking care of family members when they were ill to making decisions about when a doctor should be contacted. Women were also often responsible for the household budget. With those facts in mind, GSD&M aimed UnitedHealthcare's marketing campaign at adults 25 to 54 years old but with an emphasis on women in that age demographic. GSD&M noted in its brief submitted for the 2004 EFFIE Awards competition that the skew ratio of the campaign was 7 women for every 3 men. It stated further that women in particular were frustrated with the health-care industry and were concerned about whether their family's health-care plan would provide the best coverage for the money. These female heads of household considered it necessary that a health-care insurance provider include prescription coverage, preventive care, a large network of doctors, and products and services that were easy to understand and use.


Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) provided health-care coverage to more than 85 million Americans through a variety of services, including indemnity insurance, HMOs, preferred provider organizations (PPOs), point-of-service plans, and fee-for-service plans. The company was also perhaps one of the most recognizable names in the health-care industry, due in part to its advertising efforts over the years. In 2003 increases in the price of health care were hitting consumers hard, and HealthNow, a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan provider in upstate New York, was experiencing even higher rate increases than its closest competitor. To give consumers in that market a convincing reason to pay more for BCBS, the company released an advertising campaign targeted to that specific market. The "Big Blue Arm" campaign, created by ad agency Arnold Worldwide of McLean, Virginia, was designed to present BCBS as an advocate for its members and as worth more than other insurance companies. One TV spot showed a man sitting in a restaurant ready to enjoy a meal of two big cheeseburgers. When he looked away for a moment the Big Blue Arm swooped down and knocked one of the burgers off the plate. When the man turned to see what had swept his burger away, the arm came from another angle and swiped the second burger off the plate. Additional advertisements targeted smoking, inactivity, and other health concerns, all with the Big Blue Arm intervening to help people make healthy choices. Although some consumers were offended by the ads, overall the campaign was a success. Following its 16-week run BCBS reported that membership had grown 8 percent, an all-time company high. In addition, the campaign received top honors in 2004 during the Buffalo News Creative Advertising Awards, and it earned a 2005 Bronze EFFIE Award.


UnitedHealthcare's United Health Foundation released a print advertising campaign designed to help educate consumers about the health-care system and how to make better decisions related to their own health care. The campaign, which ran from October 2003 through February 2004, featured ads in consumer magazines, including People, Better Homes and Gardens, and TV Guide. Related ads appeared on the websites ABCNews.com and Parents.com, among others. The ads focused on three topic areas important to helping consumers make wise health-care decisions: "Getting the most out of a visit to the doctor's office," "Taking charge of your care," and "Using antibiotics appropriately."

Aetna, Inc., was struggling in 2003. The insurer, which had been one of the nation's largest, was facing charges by doctors claiming the company used unfair billing practices and patient-care interference. And Aetna was in trouble financially, a problem blamed in part on overpriced acquisitions, such as the $1 billion purchase in 1999 of Prudential Healthcare. By 2001 Aetna's problems had resulted in a net loss of $279.6 million. To rein in costs and get the company back on stable ground, chairman and chief operating officer John W. Rowe increased annual rates 16 percent, cut 15,000 jobs, and reduced Aetna's customer base from 21 million in 2000 to 13 million in 2003. He also eliminated from the company's rosters about half of the U.S. counties in which Aetna had provided Medicare services. As things began to stabilize, Aetna rebuilt. In 2004 the company launched a national marketing campaign designed to reinforce the brand's value and relevance to consumers. Themed "We Want You to Know," the campaign targeted benefits consultants and brokers and the employee-benefits decision makers for companies. Print ads appeared in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, and BusinessWeek.


When GSD&M began work on UnitedHealthcare's "It Just Makes Sense" campaign, it was faced with the challenge of building awareness of and familiarity with the brand in a health-care environment that was increasingly leaning toward consumer-directed health care, which placed more choices and financial responsibility on the patient. The pilot campaign was designed for three test markets based on specific population criteria, including levels of consumer awareness of UnitedHealthcare (from emerging to established to heritage, or longstanding, customers). Working from the assumption that most consumers believed that the health-care process was confusing and irrational, GSD&M developed a campaign that used humor to point out the lack of common sense in both the industry and consumers. It further noted UnitedHealthcare's practical approach to health care and how it helped confused consumers to achieve healthier outcomes. The campaign, which first ran for a week in April 2003, included television and radio spots and newspaper ads in the target markets. That was followed by a second wave of advertising from November 10 to December 3.

Television spots included three that showed people making decisions with final results that made access to an HMO such as UnitedHealthcare seem like a good idea. In the first spot, titled "Bridesmaids," a wedding party was gathered in a beautiful meadow. Viewers did not realize that the meadow was at the top of a hill until the bride followed tradition and tossed her bouquet. It sailed through a pristine blue sky. As the bridesmaids raced to catch the flowers, the hapless young women went tumbling off the side of a cliff, bouncing and rolling across rocks and cacti into a lake below, to the surprise of an unsuspecting fisherman sitting in a boat on the lake. A second commercial, "Lions," featured a film crew in Africa making a documentary about lions. As a man wearing a giant lion's head approached a group of the beasts, the director said to him, "Just as I suspected, the lions are getting alarmed. Whatever happens, hold your ground. Now, initiate agitation phase." Following the instructions, the man wearing the lion's head started waving his arms and roaring. The final spot, "Hornet's Nest," showed a man on a ladder wearing gloves and goggles and facing a huge hornet's nest hanging from a branch of a tree. He said to his friend, who was waiting below with a garbage can, "Now when it drops make sure you get that lid on fast." When the man reached with clippers to cut off the branch, however, the ladder fell over, sending the man and the nest crashing to the ground and causing the angry, stinging wasps to surround both men. A voice-over at the end of each spot said, "People don't always use common sense. Fortunately, there's a health-care company that does."

The print ads and a spot that was aired on the radio reinforced the message delivered in the TV commercials. The radio spot had a woman thanking a man for helping her move some boxes and warning him to be careful on the stairs. Once the man was laden with piles of boxes, the woman asked him if he could see. The man answered that he could, which was followed by crashing and thumping sounds as he fell down a flight of stairs. When the sounds stopped, indicating that the man's fall had ended, the woman asked him, "Are you okay, can you stand?" The man responded that he was okay. He apparently tried to stand, and suddenly there were the crashing sounds of the man falling down more stairs. The same tagline used in the television spots followed. Newspaper ads included a variation of the "Hornet's Nest" TV spot: a man was depicted trying to remove a hornet's nest from the second-story eaves of his house with a rapidly spinning weed-whacker. Another print ad, "Lawnmower," pictured a man lifting a buzzing power lawnmower over his head in an attempt to trim a towering hedge surrounding his lawn.


"It Just Makes Sense" was so successful at achieving its goals of increasing UnitedHealthcare brand awareness and building a positive perception of the brand among consumers in test markets that, rather than proceed with a planned final media wave in the test areas, the campaign was expanded into a national promotion in 2004. It was the company's first national marketing campaign.

Following the initial release of the campaign, Adweek included the television spot "Hornet's Nest" on its June 2003 Best Spots list, describing the campaign as turning good sense into an art form. The campaign was awarded a Silver EFFIE by the New York American Marketing Association in 2005. In addition, the company reported that the campaign resulted in significant increases in brand awareness among consumers; awareness jumped from 65 percent prior to the April 2003 launch to 79 percent afterward. Consumers' perceptions of the UnitedHealthcare brand's key attributes also showed positive increases. Research based on a seven-point scale showed one-point increases, or slightly less, in most areas, including perceptions that UnitedHealthcare was a strong and stable company (4.6 to 5.6), that it provided a practical approach to health care (4.3 to 5.3), that it was a health-care company that made sense (4.3 to 5.3), and that it was a leader in the health-care industry (5.4 to 5.4).


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"Buffalo, N.Y., Newspaper Presents Awards for Creativity in Advertising." Buffalo (NY) News, June 29, 2004.

Chura, Hillary. "Sharing Strategies: GSD&M Clients Hit Austin City Limits." Advertising Age, February 18, 2002.

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                                             Rayna Bailey

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UnitedHealth Group, Inc.

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