Insurance Giant WellPoint Commits to Facebook With Fitness Tracker

Consumer Marketing Ramps Up as Insurers Prep for Millions of New Customers Under Obamacare

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Health-insurance giant WellPoint is doubling down on its Facebook investment with a splashy new app designed to let users track their health and fitness levels.

WellPower is a new app WellPoint is planning for Facebook.
WellPower is a new app WellPoint is planning for Facebook.

It's part of the company's effort to market more to consumers, a consistent theme across the insurance industry as companies scramble to court the millions of potential consumers who may up for grabs should state-level insurance exchanges be created in 2014 under Obamacare.

According to a forecast by Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser, the health insurance sector stands to eventually mature into a $2.5 billion advertising category and comprise 6% of national TV spending, comparable in scale to the marketing for wireless telephony and mobile services. Substantial spending could be seen as early as the fall of 2013 (unless Republicans win back the Senate and the White House on Nov. 6).

For a health-care brand aiming to forge a long-term connection with consumers, social media is a logical place. A prominent business-to-business marketer, General Electric, had a similar idea this past summer when it launched HealthyShare, an app prompting users to share their progress on fitness goals.

WellPoint's strategic advertising director, Kelly Colbert, said Spotify was one inspiration for WellPoint's platform because of the artful way it harnesses Facebook sharing behavior.

We thought, "What if for the first time ever a health company gives people credit for all the healthy things they do on Facebook and allows them to quantify their online and offline fitness activities?" she said.

Branded WellPower, the platform can automatically score users' health-related Facebook activity, ranging from active pursuits like runs recorded with Nike + or RunKeeper to passive actions like sharing a Men's Health article. Users also will be prompted to share their progress with their contacts in their news feeds and to compare themselves to friends also using the platform.

"This is not a marketing program that 's designed to be in market for a certain amount of time," said Ian Schafer, CEO of WellPoint's social-media agency of record, Deep Focus. "It's a product investment." The sociological dimension loomed large in the app's planning since the goal was to optimize it for social sharing, he said, noting efforts to make the content captivating like users' Facebook posts about registering to vote or donate an organ, which can go viral and prompt their friends to follow suit.

WellPower is launching in beta this week but will be promoted starting in November with an ad campaign on Facebook and through the ad-tech company SocialVibe and the gaming company WildTangent. It's possible the insurer will run TV spots to promote WellPower starting next year, depending on testing, Ms. Colbert said.

Ms. Colbert declined to state the spending level for the media or the infrastructure supporting WellPower. WellPoint spent $287.8 million on advertising last year, a rise from the $226.1 million it shelled out in 2010 but lower than its $309.8 million expenditures in 2009, according to a regulatory filing.

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