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Taxi, Blue Shield Play Head Games

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LOS ANGELES Blue Shield of California is launching a guerrilla-marketing push in four cities using outdoor booths, or "chat boxes," that allow pedestrians to stick their heads in a hole and tell their tales of health insurance mismanagement.

The effort was crafted by Taxi in New York.

"We're breaking out of the category and doing things you wouldn't expect. Most [insurance] companies are not trusted, so we're hitting issues head on without ranting, and taking human perspective. The campaign suggests Blue Shield of California as something easier and more affordable," said Doug Biehn, client vp, corporate marketing.

Taxi's commercials for Blue Shield broke last fall and are still running. They use disembodied heads of actors against a white cyclorama, which shows images of customers telling tales of poor treatment. The "head-through-a-hole" aspect of the booths is intended as an extension of the TV campaign.

One booth opened last Friday on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif. Another booth will be erected in Sacramento, Calif., near the state capital (with hopes the Gov. Schwarzenegger will stick his head in to promote his health programs, the company jokes). Other booths are planned for San Francisco and San Diego.

Adding to the "fun nature" of the experience, participants talk to "disembodied heads" (of agency staffers) inside the booths.

"That's more fun for them. We didn't want people to just find themselves in the booth," said Wayne Best, executive creative director at Taxi.

The best confessions from each city will be posted on a microsite.

Best said the "natural extension of the television campaign" would allow passersby to "play the role of the people in the commercials."