Have you ever met anyone who doesn’t love Kaiser Permanente’s THRIVE campaign? I haven’t. So when I had the opportunity to hear the insiders’ perspective of the campaign from Angela Zepeda, Managing Director of Campbell Ewald Los Angeles, and Kaiser Permanente’s Lisa Ryan, Executive Director of National Advertising, at a recent Healthcare PR and Marketing Association meeting in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance. Here’s a little insight into this highly memorable brand campaign.
Kaiser began developing its new brand campaign at a time when HMOs were truly hated. Because the organization stood for the largest example of an HMO, it was often the target of a negative backlash – even though Kaiser defines itself as an integrated delivery network and has hospitals and a physician group (in California, anyway — its models in other states are different).
Research-based Strategic Insights
Kaiser started with extensive research:
- As in any brand initiative, they first looked internally to what the Kaiser Permanente brand stood for: Health advocates dedicated to your health and well-being. They believed that this legacy is consistent with the organization’s mission and values today — it stood the test of time.
- They also looked externally:
- Competitive research showed that, at the time, no company was talking about health vs. healthcare.
- They learned that what mattered most to their target consumer audiences was the concept: No matter what, I want to be as healthy as I can be. This crossed all stages of life, and the target’s psychographic profile was more important than its wide-ranging demographic profile.
In fusing the internal and external findings together, what came out was THRIVE. By taking a fun, lighthearted approach to talk about all the things you can do to take better care of yourself, Angela and Lisa emphasized that it was a reinterpretation of Total Health.
A brand is the accumulation of experiences and interactions with an organization, and Angela and Lisa said they made the care delivery organization align behind and promise to deliver on the brand story they wanted to tell.
The strategic tenets of the campaign are and remain:
- Reinvent the language
- Redefine the system
- Champion the cause
For example, the campaign will never show a doctor in a traditional exam room or hospital setting – that is, if they show a doctor at all. Instead, it’s about the patient, the member or prospective member. For example, in 2007 Kaiser aired a really memorable ad about taking better care of yourself that featured a cute, chubby little boy. It never mentioned childhood obesity, but that’s what it was really about, and about raising healthy, active kids.
While we may remember the TV spots best, the campaign was fully integrated across communications disciplines. From turning pillars in an airport waiting area into giant redwoods to hosting farmer’s markets at its medical centers, THRIVE and the team behind it found creative ways to emphasize what the brand was all about: Total Health.
So, over the years since the campaign launched in 2004, has it achieved the desired marketing results? Angela and Lisa report the answer (and I admire them for sharing the reality), based on continued research and evaluation, as yes and no:
- Yes, the brand perception of Kaiser Permanente improved tremendously since the campaign began.
- No, it has not moved the needle much in terms of growth in membership. The research shows that only 38% of respondents would “consider joining” – a number that they still consider low.
Here are a few more insights that Angela and Lisa shared:
- The campaign emphasized behavior change and health advocacy. However, Kaiser and Campbell Ewald learned that care delivery messages have a greater effect on some of the key attributes target consumers value, even though they don’t move the brand. In the future, the THRIVE campaign will focus on both health advocacy and care delivery, but still follow the strategic tenets. They’ll talk more about integration and coordinated care, like they did with this spot.
- Social media was happening whether Kaiser liked it or not, so now they need to develop a strategy.
- They see a continued growth in digital ad spend with more sophisticated planning across platforms.
Since its rollout in 2004, THRIVE has successfully helped Kaiser Permanente stand out from the “sea of sameness” that existed. Many health organizations are now focusing on their brands in the age of the ACA, and delivering a wellness message. Kaiser has a huge headstart due to its long-term investment.
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