Paul, Babe ads rankle Bemidji

Published 9:20 am Tuesday, August 20, 2013

BEMIDJI — The creative people promoting Minnesota’s new health care exchange turned to humorous ads featuring Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, taking some pratfalls.

But the ads aren’t going over so well in northern Minnesota, where some city leaders in Bemidji see them as making fun of a treasured icon.

“I think they’re offensive, some of them, and I think they’re inappropriate,” Mayor Rita Albrecht said Monday of some of the images included in the marketing campaign’s unveiling. “And I would prefer some of them not be used.”

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The MNsure ads feature Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan statue getting into dilemmas that would require the legendary giant lumberjack to visit a hospital, such as a water skiing accident and woodpeckers attacking his head. The ads are a light-hearted attempt to build awareness of the health exchange, which will allow Minnesotans to compare insurance plans side-by-side in an online marketplace.

“Paul has been our icon for so many years that you think of that particular Paul, you think of Bemidji,” said Lori Paris, the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce president. “But now when you see him running into a tree and falling over, it just looks foolish I think.”

The state is contracting with BBDO Proximity Minneapolis for the $9 million marketing campaign titled “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Reasons to Get Health Insurance.”

Leslie Sipprell, a senior vice president at BBDO Proximity, said Monday that the ads “certainly were not meant to poke fun at” Paul and Babe.

“We knew we wanted it to be very ownable to Minnesota,” Sipprell said of the ad campaign. “And (we) started thinking about what’s very iconic to the state and Paul and Babe certainly quickly came to mind as icons that people can relate to and take great pride in as part of Minnesota heritage.”

She said the campaign will have a presence at the Minnesota State Fair, and its full launch will start after Labor Day.

The city of Bemidji owns the Paul and Babe statues, which were erected in 1937. City Attorney Al Felix said the city doesn’t have any intellectual property rights over the statues, and Sipprell said the firm made sure they weren’t violating “any usage issues or laws.”