What’s wrong with ‘Avocado’?

A behind-the-scenes look at branding the Affordable Care Act in California

What’s in a name?

Plenty if you’re the California Health Benefit Exchange, which pledges to have a website operational by September displaying the various health-care plans more than 3 million individual Californians without coverage and the operators of small businesses can purchase beginning January 1, 2014.

To accomplish the exchange’s mission of ensuring more uninsured Californians become insured, a great deal of marketing will be required. Some $90 million is earmarked for “outreach,” which, like “reform,” varies depending on the definer.

Part of that outreach is the creation of a name designed to resonate with consumers significantly stronger than “California Health Benefit Exchange.”

After much deliberation and the expenditure of far less than $90 million, the solution:

“Covered California.”

If that seems a bit opaque, “the brand name will never exist on its own in a vacuum. It is just one part of [a] big system,” insists Chris Kelly, senior adviser of marketing and outreach for Covered California, in one of several PowerPoint presentations to the exchange’s board on the name-change issue.

Choosing “Covered California” was no whim. The list of options was winnowed through public hearings. There was testimony. Written comments. Focus groups.

Among the rejected names was “Healthifornia,” perhaps because it calls to mind former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the title of a Red Hot Chili Peppers album.

An investigation by the exchange in conjunction with legal counsel from Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide nixed “CaliHealth” based on “serious concerns about being able to trademark” the name, Kelly reported to the board.

Ogilvy is being paid some $900,000 by Covered California to help resolve issues like figuring out if Covered California is the best name for the entity formerly known as “the exchange.”

“CalAccess” and “PACcess” were tubed, perhaps since they’re even vaguer than “Covered California.”

Also rejected was “Wellquest,” no doubt due to it sounding too similar to Grover, as in Norquist, the Washington, D.C., anti-tax crusader.

Would “Avocado” have made other states green with envy over their failure to stumble upon so clever a name?

As to the rejection of “Ursa,” there’s simply no accounting for taste. It was one of the top-four names chosen last fall by focus groups in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

The same investigation aided by Ogilvy that scuttled “CaliHealth” uncovered “language/translation concerns” regarding “Ursa,” Kelly told the board. Game over.

Something called “Quanti-Quali testing” of the remaining names—including proposed logos—was then conducted in San Diego and Sacramento.

“The name of ’Eureka’ did not test well, but when presented with logo and tagline there was wide acceptance,” one of Kelly’s PowerPoint presentations to the board says. “Eureka” was axed partly because it was perceived more as a “private program” than “Covered California,” which was seen more as a “public program.”

This rejection despite “Eureka” being California’s motto and translating from the Greek, appropriately enough, to “I’ve found it.”

Hispanic respondents found “Covered California” or “California Covered” to be “particularly appealing,” Kelly reported. Two-thirds of all respondents concurred. Search concluded.

Apparently, part of the attraction of Covered California was the ability to incorporate its two C’s in the logo.

Four options for the Covered California logo were examined by the 228 Quanti-Quali decision-makers—70 of whom were married and 158 single, Kelly’s PowerPoint notes. Their favorite was the “inverted double C’s.”

“Many observed that [the logo] felt ’safe’ and protected, especially respondents with families,” Kelly told the board.

Covered California is, of course, focused on more than merely sifting through naming choices proffered by focus groups.

While the prices and coverage options for consumers won’t be posted until September, bids to be under Covered California’s umbrella are already being accepted. Negotiations between submitters and Covered California are supposed to conclude by June 1.