Updated: 08/19/2013 6:11 PM
Created: 08/19/2013 4:19 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
From billboards to buses to your Web browser, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are now bombarding you with a message you might not expect to hear from them. They're the faces of Minnesota's new health insurance exchange - and part of a massive marketing campaign that kicks off on Monday.
MNsure will officially open for business in 44 days, allowing Minnesotans to shop for health insurance online. Everyone has to be covered by Jan. 1. So, the state is spending $9 million on a marketing campaign to make sure the word gets out.
"We're really excited about this campaign," said April Todd-Malmlov, MNsure's executive director.
Todd-Malmlov said the ads are aimed at attracting attention.
"This is a bold, kind of dynamic and memorable way of getting people to understand what MNsure is," Todd-Malmlov said.
And if you haven't seen the ads yet, you will soon enough.
"We're really going after everything," Todd-Malmlov said.
Minnesota is spending $3.5 million on advertising as part of that campaign, including $1.1 million for television ads, $800,000 for digital ads, $700,000 for newspaper and magazine ads, and $400,000 for billboards, bus ads, and other out-of-home marketing. It's all federal grant money.
The ultimate goal is to make sure every Minnesotan signs up for insurance.
"We want them to act. We want them to actually come to MNsure and get coverage," Todd-Malmlov said.
"It's quite a challenge, even with a $9 million budget," said Lorman Lundsten, a marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas. "Generally speaking, it's harder to make people do what they should do than to help people do what they want to do."
But he said the use of humor is likely an effective strategy.
"I don't want to hear lectures. I don't want to hear about the law," Lundsten said.
And Todd-Malmlov said they're already getting responses, many in the form of questions in emails, phone calls, and through tweets.
"What might be available to them? What kind of subsidies might they be eligible for? What is the coverage going to look like?" Todd-Malmlov said, describing the most common questions.
Meanwhile, the ads aren't going over so well in northern Minnesota, where some city leaders in Bemidji
see them as making fun of a treasured icon.
The marketing campaign is not limited to advertising. Minnesota will also spend $600,000 just on outreach, working with local organizations to give in-person assistance to folks who need to buy insurance by the end of the year.