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Published January 23, 2014, 08:53 PM

MNsure to ax Paul and Babe ads

BEMIDJI, Minn. – The comedic and controversial MNsure health insurance exchange ads featuring legendary characters Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are about to fade into legend themselves.

By: Zach Kayser, Forum News Service, INFORUM

BEMIDJI, Minn. – The comedic and controversial MNsure health insurance exchange ads featuring legendary characters Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are about to fade into legend themselves.

MNsure spokesman John Reich said Thursday that although Paul and Babe would remain the symbols of MNsure, at least some of the radio and television ads featuring the pair will be canceled as the organization tries to save money.

“What we’re looking at doing is scaling back some of the paid media around the campaign,” he said. “That would include TV and radio and things like that, but I think you’re going to continue to see Paul and Babe as representations of MNsure ... out and about.”

Reich didn’t know specifically how much money MNsure will save by cutting the ads because its leaders still need to sort out just how much ad coverage they want to cut and which ads they want to cancel. Some of the Paul and Babe spots have already been paid for, Reich said, making it pointless to cut them.

“We’ve got $3.5 million in paid media right now,” he said. “We’ve got a number of mediums that we’re using, including digital, TV, radio, billboards, buses ... some of those things are contracts and some of those are ad buys that are in place already. We’re going to have to do a little bit of an analysis to see what’s already in place that can be moved and what can’t be.”

MNsure will establish which ads will be taken down within the next few days, Reich said.

The campaign, formally called “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance,” debuted in August. It features video ads that show Paul Bunyan being attacked by woodpeckers and crashing into trees while water skiing.

At the time, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht called them “offensive” and later, “tacky,” on the basis that they trivialized the city’s favorite son.

The ensuing statewide media coverage of the comments touched off a political firestorm where state legislators and even Gov. Mark Dayton weighed in. Albrecht’s and other Bemidji city leaders’ stance on the ads eventually softened.

“Telling Minnesotans about MNsure is a big job,” Albrecht wrote in an editorial that ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It takes a big voice. And Paul is just the guy to do it. And if he has to look a little silly in the process, so be it.”

Reached Thursday for comment, Albrecht said the ads being cut made sense.

“I think they need to do whatever they need to do to make that program successful,” she said. “If that means cutting ads, then that’s what they should do.”

As Albrecht mentioned in her 2014 State of the City address, the VisitBemidji tourism group has been trying to organize an event that would capitalize on the media coverage of the Paul and Babe “kerfuffle.”

VisitBemidji Executive Director Denelle Hilliard said Thursday that the event would have featured Dayton signing a giant “get well soon” card for Paul. The event, to be held in conjunction with MNsure and state tourism group Explore Minnesota, was scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 8.

“(We) wanted to encourage that they’re the icons, this is home of Paul and Babe and he’s alive and well, (that) kind of thing,” she said.

However, Hilliard said she hasn’t heard back yet from the governor’s office and was unsure on the status of the event.

“We will find out, probably soon,” she said.

The Paul and Babe campaign has already served its purpose, Reich said.

“Our focus groups showed that it resonated with people; it delivered the message we were hoping for as well as well as caught their attention,” he said. “I think it was an extremely effective campaign.”

Calls to BBDO Proximity Minneapolis, the ad firm that designed the Paul and Babe campaign, were not returned Thursday.

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