Achieving the ‘Unexpected’: GMMB and the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange See Big Enrollment Gains with Targeted Campaign

MX Award Winner Spotlight

By: Deborah Shapiro, AMA Volunteer

According to health policy research firm KFF, 10% of Americans did not have health insurance in 2021, with 64% citing the cost of coverage as the main reason for remaining uninsured. But uninsured adults were more than twice as those with insurance to incur medical debt and 20% of uninsured adults reported going without needed care due to cost. While Maryland’s uninsured rate of 7.1% was lower than the national average, much work still needed to be done to increase enrollment in health coverage.

Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and its marketing agency, GMMB, knew they had to convince uninsured Marylanders that the cost of going without insurance was greater than the cost of coverage. Recognizing that most people don’t consider the possibility of an unexpected medical emergency and its risk to both their health and financial well-being, the Unexpected campaign was born.

Reaching the Target Audiences

“Knowing that cost is often the biggest barrier to coverage, we had to shift Marylanders’ thinking to how having health insurance helps you manage your budget when so much else is unpredictable,” said Melissa Morales, GMMB senior vice president and managing director. “You can’t control when you get sick or injured, but you can have some control over how much it will cost you. With health insurance, Marylanders are covered for all of the essentials, and they can avoid medical debt from big hospital bills.”

Using the tagline, ‘Get Protected from the Unexpected,’ GMMB created a series of television and radio commercials, as well as ads for out-of-home and digital, social and print media, with messaging, language and imagery most relevant to the target audiences of Black, Hispanic and young adult Marylanders. These target audiences were determined by their outsized uninsured rates in the state. The ads presented different medical events – falling off a ladder, a sick baby, a sports injury, the flu – and encouraged Marylanders to enroll in a health insurance plan during open enrollment.

All content was translated into Spanish and created in consultation with partners specializing in reaching Hispanic and Black audiences. GMMB also worked in partnership with firms that specialize in reaching Black and Hispanic audiences to execute a robust community outreach program that included sponsorships at events such as Fiesta Baltimore and Secret Garden Festival.

GMMB also utilized influencers, including Geno Stone and Trai Turner, Baltimore Ravens and Washington Commanders players respectively. Both players shared personal Instagram stories encouraging Marylanders to enroll and recorded 60-second radio ads that aired on general market and African American/Black stations statewide. To reach the Hispanic audiences, GMMB engaged influencers Jenny the Voice and Pedro Palomino, who shared posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. This included content in English and Spanish.

The advertising campaign ran from October 2022 to January 2023, starting two weeks before open enrollment to start to raise awareness. The digital campaign delivered 91 million impressions. Young adults (18-34) drove the most impressions and conversions – more than 136,000 – followed closely by the Hispanic/Latino audience. The search campaign saw a 14.7% click-through-rate.

Achieving ‘Unexpected’ Results

Open enrollment began November 1, 2022 and ended January 15, 2023, with a record-breaking 182,166 enrollments, including a 3% increase among Black Marylanders and a 9% increase among Hispanic Marylanders.

“The Unexpected campaign aimed to increase the number of insured Marylanders by highlighting the unexpected, yet relatable, moments life can throw your way,” said Betsy Plunkett, director of marketing and web strategies at Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. “GMMB created an effective campaign that grabbed people’s attention and drove a record number of Marylanders to enroll in health coverage.”

“Maryland has much to be proud of with one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. But every year we succeed in covering more Marylanders, we also make our job harder,” explained Morales. “The remaining uninsured are increasingly difficult to reach, and often have greater barriers to overcome. One size does not fit all and we have to address a variety barriers like immigration status, language access, lack of internet or connectivity in rural areas or low health insurance literacy. But it can be done. Through targeted outreach, by engaging strategic messengers and creating unexpected content, we have and will continue to get more Marylanders covered.”


Deborah Shapiro is a volunteer for AMA Baltimore on the Marketing and Communications Committee. She is the Corporate Communications and PR Specialist at Danfoss. You can follow her on LinkedIn.