Covered California Awards $400 Million Contract to Duncan Channon

The agency won a 5-year agreement with the state health insurance marketplace

Duncan Channon will be responsible for developing creative campaigns to convince Californians to sign up for Covered California healthcare plans. Covered California
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Covered California, the first and largest state health insurance marketplace in the country, has named San Francisco independent agency Duncan Channon its creative and media agency of record.

The five-year contract is worth around $400 million. Duncan Channon will be responsible for developing creative campaigns to convince Californians to sign up for Covered California healthcare plans, including driving behavioral change in viewers who believe healthcare isn’t right for them or too expensive for them to secure.

“It takes the whole agency, every type of talent we have, to think about a problem like this and work on this business, helping more of our fellow Californians have access to quality, comprehensive insurance. That was always very attractive,” Duncan Channon CCO Michael Lemme told Adweek.

“We put all of our energy, heart and talent into winning it, and we have been putting that into every moment of getting the best work that we can,” he added. “We are in a time when the ability to have insurance is harder for more people, with so many losing their jobs.”

The appointment follows a competitive review earlier this year between seven agencies, including incumbent Campbell Ewald, and concluded before the pandemic’s impact.

Covered California director of marketing Colleen Stevens cited Duncan Channon’s history of “strong creative and ads that can emotionally engage people,” which she explained were important points in convincing an audience that has used internal justifications for going without health insurance for years.

“Self-elimination is our biggest problem,” she said. “That’s why emotional engagement is so important. We have to override their predetermined thought processes.”

“Covered California is an organization that believes in the power of marketing. We think a big chunk of our success is due to marketing,” Stevens added. “We’re trying to change social norms and get people who don’t think this applies to them to investigate further.”

Duncan Channon currently works with another state client, California Tobacco Control Program. The agency developed a “Flavors Hook Kids” campaign examining flavored vaping products’ role in youth addiction and a subsequent “Outbreak” campaign focused around the outbreak of vaping-related illness in 2019.

Stevens also stressed the importance of picking an agency with the ability to deliver messaging across California’s diverse population. Duncan Channon’s first campaign for Covered California features ads in multiple languages including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean, as well as English, she said.

The campaign’s process was shaped by the pandemic’s limitations, with the agency relying heavily on remote shoots, and both photo sessions and video production featuring real families—something Stevens said lent the effort a sense of intimacy.

The campaign debuts across several media channels on Nov. 9 and runs to Jan. 31. Stevens explained that the campaign was timed to the open enrollment period beginning on Nov. 1, but that the organization wanted to wait until after the election to avoid the message being drowned out.

The campaign arrives as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case challenging the Affordable Care Act, responsible for the creation of Covered California and other exchanges around the country, shortly after the election next month.

“In terms of the political climate, we made a conscious decision not to do any messaging around the Supreme Court hearing the ACA case, the election and how the election might change things. Our commitment is to convince Californians that Covered California is strong, stable, has financial resources to make sure people will be covered, [and] that we have good, quality plans,” Stevens said. “On the other hand, California has taken a leadership position in adjusting to changes happening nationally to provide quality service and plans since the beginning.”


@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
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