Fred and Ethel revived to pitch prescription plan

Published October 3, 2005

If the names Fred and Ethel Mertz ring a bell, you're probably the right market for Medicare.

That's why PacifiCare Health Systems has appropriated the constantly quarreling couple from the 1950s I Love Lucy TV show to promote its new stand-alone Medicare prescription plan, which will be available nationwide.

"Through the magic of Hollywood, famously tightfisted Fred (William Frawley) and his irascible wife, Ethel (Vivian Vance), are brought back to life in a series of entertaining vignettes," California-based PacifiCare said in a release about its new television advertising campaign.

Using body doubles, voice impersonators and computer-generated imagery, the national TV ads that will premiere in mid October will enable the two long-dead actors to "speak" once more. And, oddly enough, they'll be talking about PacifiCare's new drug plan.

The insurer has dubbed its huge Medicare marketing campaign "Choice is swell."

But viewers who remember the real Fred and Ethel might wonder if transforming them into spokespeople for private Medicare plans is such a swell idea.

What's next? Ricky selling cigars? Lucy shilling for cemetery plans?

There may be a good reason dead men can't talk.