Covered California Ads Directed by Errol Morris Cut Right to the Chase About Health Insurance

'This Way to Health Insurance' is the first campaign from Duncan Channon for the new client

a family eating dinner
"This Way to Health Insurance" is centered on TV ads supported by digital and targeted OOH. Covered California/Duncan Channon/Errol Morris

Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, has launched a campaign to reach all residents with a direct message about accessibility.

Covered California appointed Duncan Channon as its agency of record last month, awarding the San Francisco agency a five-year contract following a review. “This Way to Health Insurance” is the shop’s first work for the new client.

The campaign is centered on series of TV ads directed remotely by Errol Morris and features real Californians, providing a clear and direct message about how Covered California can help make health insurance a reality amid a pandemic and economic crisis.

“At a time when people are rightfully concerned about their health, their jobs and their financial constraints, we want Californians to know that health insurance is one area where options and support are available,” Covered California marketing director Colleen Stevens said in a statement. “Our mission is to make sure not a single Californian goes without health insurance because they think it won’t make a difference, or is financially out of reach.”

“People know they want health insurance. The trick is that for a lot of people it feels out of reach, and for fewer people unnecessary,” Duncan Channon CCO Michael Lemme told Adweek. “It’s ever more important that we cut to chase.”

Lemme explained that the campaign was designed to reach all Californians, even those who currently have health insurance through an employer. At the same time, the campaign works hardest to convince those who think health insurance might be financially out of reach or otherwise unattainable.

One ad that tells the story of a man who recently lost his job and was unsure whether he could afford health insurance for himself and his family is a clear example of how the agency reaches both audiences. It speaks directly to how Covered California provides financial assistance to those otherwise unable to afford health insurance, while a wider audience can recognize a scenario that many fear as a possibility.

“We want people to recognize themselves in these stories but they’re seeing people that have gotten it done, and hopefully that creates some hope and optimism,” Lemme said, explaining the hope was that telling the stories from the perspective of those who have successfully applied would create a sense of optimism. “The premise of the campaign is how to get this done as quickly and directly as possible.”

Duncan Channon partnered with a series of multicultural agencies in an attempt to reach the diverse population of the state with an effort running in six languages. Those agencies—APartnership, Barú and Quantasy—collaborated closely with Duncan Channon throughout the creative process.

“The work from the beginning was co-created with those agencies. From the onset our strategists and their team and our teams had the same brief at the same time,” Lemme explained. “It’s a lot of people to organize but it was important to us that we were leveraging all of that expertise and then discussing with each other which [approaches] have resonance because California is a multicultural community and in order to be effective we have to understand all those different populations.”

Lemme explained that the campaign evolved from two ideas presented when Duncan Channon pitched for the account, but that the direction of the campaign was shaped by the pandemic in a variety of ways. A virtual testing process made it clear that audiences didn’t need a message with elevated emotion about the need for health insurance, and the authenticity of the campaign was aided in part by the necessity of working with real families. In many cases, their personal stories helped shape the ads. In casting, Lemme explained that Morris would engage actors in conversations about their own experiences, many of which informed the final scripts for the ads.

@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.