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Tone softens on Paul and Babe insurance marketing campaign

BEMIDJI -- The interest in Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as advertising spokesmodels for the state's new health insurance marketplace continued Tuesday, albeit with a softer tone.

On Sunday, officials from MNsure released details about its marketing campaign that show the popular, iconic Bemidji statues embarking on some escapades that lead to some minor injuries -- thus the need to be thinking about health insurance.

Initially, the ads caused some uproar for some Bemidji civic leaders, including Mayor Rita Albrecht, who bristled at the not-so-bright portrayal of Paul. Early Monday, Albrecht told the Pioneer the ads were "offensive," which sparked a ton of media interest, as well as a slew of Twitter and Facebook posts.

The Paul and Babe saga even got the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton, who told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Monday that "I know they're (Bemidji city leaders) very proud of Paul and Babe, and rightfully so. I don't think the effort was intended with any disrespect. I hope people will pay attention so we can get people...signed up."

Albrecht had lightened her stance by Monday night's City Council meeting, where she simply said the ads were not done in the best taste.

More media attention continued Tuesday, and Albrecht even penned a letter to the Pioneer, where she wrote:

"We like to do things big in Bemidji, and apparently that includes over-reacting to the antics of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as unveiled in the new MNsure marketing campaign this week."

Albrecht wrote that "people across the state agreed that the pair make the perfect Minnesota representatives. That's why MNsure chose them -- no figures are more recognizable or beloved than our Paul & Babe, and we couldn't agree more. It is an honor that the whole state loves them as much as Bemidji does."

Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce, also initially told the Pioneer she wasn't a big fan of the ads, noting that they made Paul look a little "foolish." But in a later interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Paris said the use of Paul and Babe also has a positive side.

"Ultimately, we're flattered that they picked Paul Bunyan," she told the newspaper. "He stands tall here in Bemidji. It helps keep Bemidji on the map."