State agencies and law enforcement that are fighting insurance fraud generally agree with the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But how do we convince otherwise law-abiding consumers that committing fraud is undesirable? And just as important for fraud fighters who must make efficient use of often-scarce resources, how do we measure the effectiveness of those efforts?
In Pennsylvania, the five-year deployment of a social-marketing campaign has been measurably successful in educating consumers, changing attitudes and encouraging consumer behavior changes over time.1 2
Seeking social change
Social marketing is a strategic approach for encouraging a desired change in consumer behavior. It is based on marketing principles and influenced by understanding a target audience’s needs. Social marketing, however, sometimes is mistaken for “social media” such as Facebook and Twitter. The former is a marketing discipline. The latter is a digital communications platform that can be part of a broader social marketing effort.
Social marketing gained prominence beginning in the 1970s, when researchers realized that marketing principles used to sell consumer products also could promote ideas, attitudes and behavioral shifts. This launched social marketing as a distinct marketing discipline often used to promote health, prevent injuries and mobilize communities.
Generally, social marketing influences behaviors that benefit the target consumers and society as a whole. Using social marketing to encourage behavior change is increasingly common, and, depending on the behavior, effective.
Nationally, the increased use of seat belts and reduction in drunk driving are two examples of successful social-marketing campaigns.1 2 Organ donation, litter prevention and recycling, and tobacco cessation are other arenas where social marketing has been employed to great effect.
Social-marketing campaigns can be especially effective when the behavior they try to change is occasional rather than habitual and ingrained — and preventing occasional fraud was the challenge Pennsylvania faced. The majority of insurance scams reported to the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA) involved small-time crimes.
“Generally, social marketing influences behaviors that benefit the target consumers and society as a whole.”
These are opportunistic scams by normally honest people who, in a moment of weakness, made an unwise decision.3 Maybe they inflated a claim for a stolen home sound system or engagement ring. Or they crashed their car and lied to their insurer that someone stole it. These aren’t hardened career criminals or recidivists.
Social marketing thus can be a strong deterrent that influences many potential opportunistic scammers against committing fraud.
The IFPA began partnering with the marketing communications agency PPO&S in 2008 to design a statewide consumer-education campaign using social marketing. The IFPA is a unique agency. It pursues a two-pronged strategy by funding both criminal prosecutions by law enforcement of insurance fraud, and outreach campaigns to help deter this crime.
PPO&S had conducted social-marketing campaigns in Pennsylvania for nearly three decades. The efforts advanced statewide public thinking about issues such as family health insurance, childhood immunization, prenatal healthcare and adoption of special-needs children.
The first priority of social marketing is to understand the consumer’s knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about the topic. That forms the basis for designing communications to encourage the desired behaviors.
Success for the insurance fraud prevention assignment is then measured through the shift in consumer perception and their behavioral attitudes toward conducting insurance fraud, rather than soft metrics such as whether a message is seen or viewed.
The research was designed and executed in partnership with the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.
The core theoretical framework for designing the IFPA campaign is the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB).4 The TPB helps make sense of the effects that information can have on people’s behavior. The TPB framework says behaviors stem from intentions to engage in a behavior. These intentions come from attitudes about the behavior, attitudes about subjective norms, and attitudes about perceived behavioral control.5
“They said they would “never” be tempted to defraud an insurer...”
Research shows that intentions often predict behaviors, and, more broadly, it tells us that knowledge and attitudes are strong predictors of behavior.
Knew little about fraud
The IFPA campaign would be based on research-based metrics that drive both how the campaign was created and how its impact was measured. The 2008 baseline pre-campaign survey produced four core findings about insurance fraud.
First, most Pennsylvania residents — nearly seven in 10 — unequivocally said they were averse to committing insurance fraud. They said they would “never” be tempted to defraud an insurer no matter what type of fraud scenario they were presented (intention).
Second, people’s knowledge about insurance fraud was scant. More adults knew it was wrong to illicitly buy auto coverage and make a false claim after an accident than those who knew it was wrong to drive uninsured. Yet only one in six could define or classify insurance fraud. Fewer still knew that insurance fraud is a felony.
Third, most Pennsylvanians believed insurance fraud perpetrators rarely were caught. And few residents said they were likely to report someone they believed was committing insurance fraud, even though they believed committing fraud was wrong (social norms).
Finally, few believed perpetrators deserve a prison sentence. Thus they tacitly implied that fraud is not a serious crime.
The communications team used these results to develop messages with three primary goals:
• Increase consumer understanding of insurance fraud;
• Make consumers understand the personal and social damage from committing this crime; and
• Make it socially unacceptable to risk trying to defraud an insurer.
Meeting these goals would decrease the number of Pennsylvania consumers who would consider committing insurance fraud.
“Thus they tacitly implied that fraud is not a serious crime.”
We branded, designed and executed a statewide multimedia campaign with a full range of creative materials that integrated traditional advertising (television, radio, out-of-home and print), digital advertising and public relations. Each element encouraged the viewer or listener to become further enlightened on the newly revised IFPA website at www.helpstopfraud.org.
Eight deterrent television spots were central to the effort for several years. The thirty-second spots featured scenarios such as a woman losing a promising job offer after admitting to her interviewer that she had a fraud conviction ... a young man trying to convince his girlfriend to lie to her auto insurer that she crashed her car after buying a policy ... a husband revealing to his wife that he tried to destroy their expensive car to collect insurance and unburden themselves from the payments.
Through these and other compelling, real-life scenarios, the campaign showed how a moment of bad judgment can have a serious, life-changing impact.
The media campaign launched in conjunction with an e-blast to legislators, law enforcement and insurance industry officials to alert them to the new campaign effort. An announcement release and information kits were sent to news outlets around the state. Consumer brochures on automobile, workers comp, homeowner and health fraud were designed for distribution through stakeholder networks.
Results: More oppose fraud
The media campaign ran from June 2009 until June 2013. The effort clearly influenced what people knew and believed about insurance fraud.
The campaign recorded increases in consumers who:
• believed they would be caught if they committed insurance fraud;
• knew the definition of insurance fraud;
• believed perpetrators deserve jail time; and
• would report scams. (see Figure 1)
Most importantly, the number of people who would consider committing fraud decreased.
The campaign evaluation included a benchmark study and three followup evaluations.
The campaign likely has reduced the number of consumer scams demanding the attention of insurers and law enforcement, the evaluation suggested. This also brings with it an unmeasurable but clear monetary saving from bogus claims and resources used to investigate the scams.
The campaign cost slightly more than $18 per person to convince likely fraudsters to avoid committing this crime. Compare that with the Authority’s average cost of $21,000 to $25,000 to investigate, prosecute and convict each insurance offender.
“The campaign likely has reduced the number of consumer scams demanding the attention of insurers ...”
Just as important, this success has allowed fraud fighters to focus more resources on investigating and prosecuting organized insurance schemes such as staged-crash rings, which can be large-dollar crimes with significant losses in false claims.
The impact of social marketing received more validation when IFPA in 2013 decided to temporarily halt the social-marketing component of its outreach efforts after five years of steady improvement in people’s attitudes and behaviors.
Nearly all gains had regressed by 2015 without sustained reinforcement from the ads and other related tactics, our followup research discovered.
The campaign gains might have continued rising steadily with sustained effort, we projected (see Figure 2). Eliminating social marketing clearly undid many of the favorable outcomes in attitudes and behaviors. This regression is not unusual when social-marketing campaigns are suspended like this.
It also is a strong signal about the power of social marketing to turn a sometimes ambivalent or even tolerant society more firmly against insurance fraud.
About the authors: Virginia Roth is President, PPO&S in Harrisburg, Pa. ... Berwood Yost is the Director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy and the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.