ConAgra Foods, BlueCross NC change customer perceptions

NEW YORK: Does the paid-earned-shared-owned media model really work? For ConAgra Foods and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, the answer is a resounding yes.

NEW YORK: Does the paid-earned-shared-owned media model really work? For ConAgra Foods and BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, the answer is a resounding yes.

During a panel at the PRWeek Conference in New York on Tuesday, executives from both companies said they face challenges that need communications solutions but they don't want to sink millions of dollars into paid media efforts to address them.

ConAgra had noticed sales of its frozen-food products had stalled, and research showed the perception of frozen foods was that they were fattening and highly processed. This didn't gel with the reality of ConAgra products, because it has numerous choices made of fresh ingredients that are low in calories.

“How do you take a category that's in decline, a frozen aisle that consumers aren't shopping in nearly as much, and eating habits that are changing and do something quite different,” said Stephanie Moritz, senior director of PR and social marketing at ConAgra.

The answer was to augment reality. Inspired by Google Glass, the company created a video that was posted on social media showing the shopping habits of two consumers as they made their way through the grocery store. When they approached the frozen-food section, they began to see nutritional data for ConAgra's products.

The company also teamed up with consumer trend analyst Phil Lempert, who conducted an aggressive media tour this past March. ConAgra also partnered with noted bloggers on the initiative. These methods cost the company a modest amount but it saw financial success. For its 2013 fiscal year, which ended in May, sales were up 21% to nearly $2.4 billion.

Meanwhile, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina found itself and its competitors increasingly drawing consumers' ire. A January 2011 poll found that North Carolinians blamed insurers more than anyone else for rising medical costs. More than half (55%) of those surveyed believed the provider cared only about profits, while 41% doubted that the company cared enough to speak about the issue.

It launched the Let's Talk Cost campaign, which aimed to create a dialogue about costs and address the need for shared responsibility to fix the system, instead of placing blame on a specific healthcare stakeholder. The effort is now in its third iteration.

The first version of the effort used goats to portray doctors, insurers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, consumers, and attorneys to emphasize that scapegoating does not create solutions. By the end of that phase, research showed a decrease in the number of people who blamed BlueCross BlueShield for costs, and by the end of 2012, membership grew by more than 140,000 to 3.74 million. Revenue also jumped about 3.6% in 2012 to about $5.7 billion.

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