Saturday, 11 February 2012

We need to talk about the healthcare squirrels


Like banks, healthcare companies have decided it's time to display a surfeit of goodwill and caringness.  (see my earlier blog about banks' weird grinning ads here)  The freaky smiles in bank ads emote something along the lines of 'sorry we robbed you but we're all better now'.  But what's with Simplyhealth?  Their TV advertising was created by Airside in colours they describe as 'stretching the colour diodes on your TV screens to near-breaking point'. The world they create,  is one "where the notion of healthcare" is "conveyed in a caring and positive light."

They're not kidding. The rotoscoped images literally take real life and paint happy colours onto it. Their endline is the utterly bamboozling 'We can be bothered'. Talk about setting their standards low.  I mean, that's your message to your million customers?  Pay us enough and we will pick up the phone. 

Wait, wait, no. The 'can' is stressed. In my copywriting workshops (preen) I tell people that using stresses, inverted commas, underlinings and other affectations of intonation are a sign of weakness.  It shows you can't find the right words, so (ironically in this case) you didn't bother.  OK bad start.  

So the narrative of the ad shows healthy people in a perfect world being made even more healthy and perfect, assisted by squirrels. It's the garden of Eden. In summer.  The idea is to offer a perfect future healthcare world, unhampered by bad weather.  This Pollyanna view of life was confirmed for customer Adam Parker when he contacted them for a scan. He received a recorded message saying they'd all gone home due to bad weather.  His story is here.

So what is Simplyhealth?  It's the strangely timely merger of HSA, BCWA, Healthsure  LHF,  Totally Active and a couple of others. BCWA is the UK's oldest private health insurer, starting as a not for profit organisation before the NHS came along. It made good money in the early noughties, for example a 2.8 million surplus in 2003 which got ploughed back into patient care.  In the interests of choice (really?) these companies were brought together in 2009 under the leadership of Des Benjamin, who ran HSA by drawing on his 30 years experience in er, financial services. However, worries about ever decreasing choice in the healthcare market grew when Simplyhealth then took over Groupama in 2011.  

Groupama were also a highly regarded provider, in particular for their record of claims transparency. The chairman of the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries said here: "Our initial reaction is extreme disappointment that a quality provider with a focus of claims transparency, and exceptional service may disappear with all its values and principles".  Simplyhealth said that while they CAN be bothered in general, they probably wouldn't bother so much with claims transparency thing.  Not so keen on enabling competition and choice.

I've ruled out Lupus
But Simplyhealth ploughed on, finishing the year by acquiring Denplan from AXA and are now the UK's largest private health insurance company. So back to the ad.

The caring, sorry bothering, that the campaign espouses is the unctuous tip of a mindfulness iceberg. Bothering is the company ethos through all media. The incident referred to above, where Simplyhealth closed up shop in a cold snap, just when people's healthcare needs were likely to rise, ended with a barrage of scraping and bowing. The customer was pursued through social media  and bothered about till he agreed he had been cared for. A comment on his blog concluded for us that the case just proved that Simplyhealth really really can be bothered after all. Hmmm-wonder who put that there. Des Benjamin talks about his commitment to service impressively too, attributing it to his experience as a kitchen porter. In PR, Social media, TV, they're caring. They've won a caringness award, they give to local charities, sponsor Secret Millionaire and bothery attitudes pervade their public statements. A Simplyhealth report says companies should be given tax breaks to give health insurance to the lower paid employees, not just the wealthy ones. (Well, when they say 'give', I think they mean 'buy from Simplyhealth'.) But another finds the shocking stat that 45% of British people suspect they will be denied treatment by the NHS following the Coalition reforms.

I think we can see what's going on. The CEO and other Simplyhealth spokespeople are candid in their narrative that they are getting ready for the coming changes in UK's health system, about which they seemed to have remarkable foresight in 2009. One even mentions future lower funding for the NHS, a policy that hasn't been launched yet by the Coalition. Simplyhealth's thesis is revealed. Caring is what the NHS will no longer provide. Hence the mangled and ominous endline. Simplyhealth, unlike the future NHS can be bothered. Or rather CAN be bothered. So long as it's not winter. It's the squirrels, see, they hibernate.