Calling Don Draper: Covered California TV Ads Are Out

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.

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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.