Media: Strategy of the week - Bupa shows its friendly side to win over customers

The company wants to shed its distant, corporate image via new ads, Ian Darby says. Despite a highly successful couple of years, the healthcare group Bupa has faced tough challenges in changing its communications.

Bupa has just posted increased profits for 2003 (up from £10.3 million to £134.5 million) but realised early last year that it wanted to do two things with its advertising: make people think about the brand more frequently (not just at times of illness) and make it seem like a more friendly brand after research had shown many people felt it to be a distant, corporate entity that wasn't for them.

In May 2003, the creative agency WCRS introduced a series of press ads featuring animated characters in comic situations as a way of helping people to reappraise the brand. After this initial campaign, designed to test the animation idea, it has been rolled out in recent weeks as a TV, press and radio campaign.

The TV spots try to position Bupa as relevant to a large part of the population and use the line: "Bupa, the health and care people." This marked a distinct change from previous advertising, which had featured real people working for Bupa.

Awareness of the Bupa brand had previously been high, at more than 90 per cent, but consumers weren't interested in what it did.

One of the recent ads features an elderly woman who is moving into a care home. She asks the Bupa representative if there will be room for her cat, at which point a lion jumps out from behind a nearby sofa. "Don't worry, he's house trained," the woman explains to the representative.

Media strategy, by Starcom MediaVest, has moved through just as much change as the creative approach. A media strategy based on placing advertising in the right environments to engage people when they are at the most receptive to Bupa's message has become the focus. For instance, press advertising has been placed in sites next to long-copy features that will engage readers for longer periods of time. For this reason, there is no advertising in the news pages of national titles. The majority of the press activity is running in monthly magazine titles.

Starcom MediaVest has tried to do the same with the television schedule.

Jess Heyes, the associate director at the agency, says: "Awareness is still important but there has been a turning point in going down a more environmental route. It's critical to engage people and reach them at high involvement levels."

Bupa's target audience is relatively broad, encompassing ABC1 consumers aged 25 or above. The TV schedule is heavily focused on programming that includes ITV dramas, ITV News at 10.30pm and Sky movies such as Bend it Like Beckham.

Heyes says that the radio schedule is also along similar lines. It uses stations such as Classic FM and Jazz FM because of their relaxing and involved environment. The decision to use Classic came out of its "brainwaves" research that shows listeners react differently when listening to Classic.

So far, the strategy seems to be paying dividends. Press activity yielded the same awareness as previous campaigns despite lower coverage and spend. Starcom MediaVest hopes the same will be true of the TV and radio spots.

The ultimate gauge of success for Bupa will be whether it can make people more familiar with it and think of it as more than a health insurer. The mixture of "friendly" and warmer creative with more involving advertising environments gives it a good chance of achieving this goal.

Client: Bupa

Media: TV, press, radio

Agencies: WCRS, Starcom MediaVest

Media idea: Engage people and reach them at times when they will be

highly involved with programming

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).