Soon, most Americans will have to buy health insurance or pay a fine. This sounds like a marketer's dream: Captive shoppers directed by the government to buy your product. But when the product you're selling is health insurance, there are some pitfalls. Your customers may not love you. In fact, they may despise you.
"I think it may be too little too late for health insurance companies to now come out, like, 'Hey,we were just kidding the last 50 years!,'" says James Percelay, co-founder of the viral marketing firm ThinkModo in New York.
I talked with Percelay about the challenges insurers will face in selling themselves.
"Their product is essentially the same," he said. "You cannot really differentiate one insurance company from another. But you can differentiate who has the wackiest mascot, or scenarios that are fun to watch." Essentially, Percelay says, we may soon see health insurance versions of the Geico gecko.
In particular, health insurers will have to craft a message to attract healthy, young customers. "There could be product placement of Oxford [Health Plans] within a Jackass movie," Percelay says. "So subliminally, when Steve-O is bungee jumping with a rubber band off the roof of a building, perhaps that rubber band has an Oxford logo on it." (Yes, we know it's unclear whether there will be another Jackass movie. This is a hypothetical.)
It will cost a lot of money for an insurance company to sign you up for the first time, so they'll want you to stick with them. Health plans will have to give customers a reason to stay loyal. Percelay imagines iTunes credits or a Starbucks card for paying your bill on time or staying healthy.
Indeed, the health insurance company Humana already allows its customers to earn "Vitality Bucks" that can be redeemed at the "Humana Vitality Mall." Keep your blood pressure in check, earn a digital camera!