Wacky ad campaign reaches the right people

July 1, 2008

Your advertising campaign has officially become old-school. That stock image of pleasant patients and attractive doctors? You aren't catching anyone's attention with that approach anymore. Meet HealthPartners' new mascot: Petey P. Cup. Yes, that's right, a urine specimen cup is a walking, dancing, huggable mascot that makes appearances at clinics, health fairs and events around the Twin Cities. Petey also has a syringe sidekick named Pokey.

Meet HealthPartners' new mascot: Petey P. Cup. Yes, that's right, a urine specimen cup is a walking, dancing, huggable mascot that makes appearances at clinics, health fairs and events around the Twin Cities. Petey also has a syringe sidekick named Pokey.

On Facebook-where the characters have linked to more than 500 friends in the past two months-they offer daily encouragement and advice. They've also been spotted on YouTube and have their own site, peteyandpokey.com, where you can buy Petey and Pokey merchandise, such as a hoodie, a journal or a T-shirt for your dog.

I called up Larissa Rodriguez and Joe Dangor in HealthPartners' marketing and communications department because I just had to know what they were up to. Turns out there is a solid business case behind the-let's call it "edgy"-ad campaign.

HealthPartners, with 1 million plan members, two hospitals and 25 clinics, launched the "A New Way to Look at Healthcare" program to promote its online services. Although the organization beats its market competition in online capability, only 14% of its patients actually use the features (online refills, immunization records, same-day test results, appointment scheduling and electronic bill paying). The strategic goal is to increase that adoption rate to 40% by the end of the year.

So Petey, who promotes same-day online test results, and Pokey, who promotes online immunization records, have a busy schedule meeting patients in person and, of course, online. They also make their rounds to the staff, too.

Rodriguez and Dangor told me hospital and clinic staff are the critical conduit for increasing patients' online-service adoption. At the care site, where patients are already engaged, staff are able to provide immediate registration and secure passwords. Passwords can also be mailed to those who sign up from home.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Although the top medical groups in the HealthPartners' network specifically chose the pee-cup campaign over a more traditional one, a few clinicians have balked at the clubby approach.

"Some are saying it's diminishing the work that they do," Dangor says. "We're proud of our online services. Patients want them, and they improve care. They have no value if people don't know about them."

He tells the naysayers "to take a deep breath and trust us."

Rodriguez has previous experience in the financial industry, and she witnessed the days when online banking wasn't embraced or trusted. Today, nearly everyone banks online.

"We've learned that healthcare needs to change the way it thinks about itself," she says. "Our push is to take healthcare one step further and get closer to other industries in the way we reach out to customers."

Julie Miller is editor-in-chief of MANAGED HEALTHCARE EXECUTIVE. She can be reached at julie.miller@advanstar.com