The prominent placement is a prime example of the boom in the senior plan category and how the battle among plan providers is being played out through advertising.
Experts acknowledge at least 11 Southern California senior plans, thought to be pouring $25-35 million into the local ad market, including: Secure Horizons, which just moved from Baxter/Stone, Santa Ana, Calif., to Stein Robaire Helm/L.A. on a project basis; FHP Senior Plan, handled by agency Foote, Cone & Belding/L.A.; Aetna Senior Choice, handled by Communique Advertising/L.A.; and CareAmerica 65 Plus through Pool Communications/L.A.
Virtual parity between the plans, and an enrollment effort addressed directly to consumers in their retirement years as opposed to employers, makes image building through ads crucial, experts say.
These plans began to emerge in the mid-'80s, when the government approved them, in an effort to cut costs, as an alternative to Medicare. Seniors eligible for Medicare can opt instead for this coverage which operates like an HMO - patients pay no premiums, and about $5 for physician visits and prescriptions.
'It's very difficult to stand out,' said Communique president Stephen Jackson. 'If you offer the product and don't advertise it heavily, people won't buy it.'
Early ad messages, focusing on security and tradition, were essentially designed to build awareness. But as competition has increased, these companies are looking to build their advertising on points of differentiation.
Market leader Secure Horizons has spent at least $4 million on a testimonial ad campaign, but will break new ads in July. 'We have to nail down our positioning and speak to the points that differentiate us,' said Marianne Probst, director of marketing communications for SH.
FHP is running direct-response TV featuring a respected supporter of seniors, Joseph Califano, former head of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
CareAmerica, finally, based its ads on focus group information that showed seniors are most concerned about health providers who don't listen to them. Pool's solution was a campaign that positions seniors as so important that they are 'America's Greatest Natural Resource.'
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)