Blue Shield Of California: Marketing & The Reluctant Healthcare Consumer

The Challenge

The $1 trillion healthcare industry in the U.S. is rapidly evolving, with multiple players, incumbents, payers and providers. Upstarts, perhaps the Amazons of healthcare, are coming in. Huge mergers like CVS and Aetna are happening. It’s a dynamic environment.

In 2016, Kimball Wilkins, VP, brand research and creative studios, Blue Shield of California, told MediaPost’s Marketing:Health conference in September 2018, the brand had been silent in the market. It was focused internally, needing to stabilize, but now, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, it needed to be back in. After doing some quantitative, qualitative work, it found it had customer abrasion, segments where its favorability had declined. There was a greater sophistication about healthcare in general. (Here’s a link to the video presentation.)

Soon, it found itself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people signing up. Wilkins said they were in the midst of a massive tech upgrade. “There were growing pains.” Then there were half of the consumers saying that treatments created as many problems as they solved. Cost was getting in the way of care for as much as 80% of the population. There was a higher willingness to switch doctors to save money or to get different benefits. But the brand remained committed to its growth agenda.

The Execution

Health, said Wilkins, is the mind, the body, and the spirit, not drugs and doctors. Stigmatism around mental health is felt acutely by consumers. There’s an appetite for a much more integrated view and a willingness to engage at that level. In that, there’s an opportunity for marketing. The upper- to mid-funnel piece is scratching the surface. There was an opportunity to go much deeper in marketing.

After hearing stories of the uninsured, and those consumers who are struggling and buying in, who get coverage but struggle with how to use it, Blue Shield knew it had to change some ways of doing business. It had to go deeper with consumers. 

It needed a strong foundation, Wilkins said, adding that “Blue” equity was strong. It started by considering company employees and executives were key to what it was trying to do, i.e., establish emotional connections with consumers. In developing the brand’s positioning, it tried to translate from focus groups’ responses such as, “When you are feeling at your best, there’s more potential in your life.” Amid so much uncertainty, building that confidence was going to be important. Wilkins’ team created an internal brand line, “Never stop.” 

In order to mirror the California market, where the Hispanic segment became the dominant segment this year, the brand wanted an inclusive vision. A multitude of languages and cultural considerations come into play, which are captured in the imagery. Blue Shield focused on the photography and paid attention to heroic views of individuals, couples and families.

Eighteen months later, the brand has kept the look and feel of the campaign constant, with the messaging and positioning evolving around it. In 2017, it was “We Care About Here,” and in 2018, it’s “Choice.” 


  • 20% membership growth 
  • 30% revenue growth
  • Generated 3 billion impressions
  • Increased ad awareness. Harder to raise unaided awareness, but it is ticking up.
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