The characters have made a handful of appearances in issues-minded commercials during the past 15 years but now Harry and Louise are advocating for, and not against, comprehensive healthcare reform.
“They're immediately recognizable,” says Laurie Mobley, director of WeissComm Partners' Washington office. “They're not building up a new brand identify. It's the juxtaposition that makes them fresh and interesting.”
The change in message, coupled with the brand recognition of the Harry and Louise characters, provides a platform for PhRMA — the trade group that represents pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies — to emphasize its message in the burgeoning healthcare reform debate through the ensuing media coverage.
“In addition to the advertising, there is a value, from an earned media standpoint, in replicating the roles of Harry and Louise and showing how their positions and concerns have changed over time,” says Ken Johnson, SVP of communications and public affairs for PhRMA. The original Harry and Louise ads were funded by the Health Insurance Association of America.
Families USA, a consumer healthcare advocacy group, has worked with PhRMA on a number of initiatives this year related to healthcare reform. Goddard Claussen, the public affairs firm that has written and directed all of the Harry and Louise ads, is working with PhRMA and Families USA on the effort. The organizations are leading PR efforts, but the firm says it is helping them with the campaign's social media presence.
Following the news announcement on July 16 of the return of Harry and Louise, the campaign received media coverage in national media outlets ranging from The New York Times to USA Today, as well as trade publications covering marketing and healthcare.
“The two characters, credited with the defeat of national healthcare reform the last time, coming forward in favor of it this time has tremendous playback potential, as witnessed by The New York Times article and others,” adds Peter Segall, MD of Edelman's Washington office and the US health public affairs practice.
As the deadlines for the August Congressional recess and Obama's plan to effect change within the year have inched closer, the debate about healthcare reform has intensified. While the Harry and Louise ad campaign is one cog in a broader industry strategy, the timing of the campaign, which will run for three weeks, is important for both public and policymaker opinion.
“I'm not surprised it's come back,” says Chris Foster, chair of the US healthcare practice for Burson-Marsteller. “The fact that it's back would suggest that it works and it's going to be helpful to move and inform public opinion.”
Foster adds that creating an advertising campaign that translates to an earned media story as well is tough. For PhRMA, an organization that's been at the crux of the reform debate, it shows a strategic decision at a crucial time.
“It's all part of a broader strategy to raise awareness of the importance of passing comprehensive healthcare reform in America,” Johnson says “This is just one piece of the puzzle.”