Recently, I was asked by Fox Business News to explain the ridiculous attempts by states to sell Obamacare to their constituents. Okay, so it was FOX and we all know FOX has its own agenda, but this time out it wasn't a political debate. This time, it was about why people aren't buying into the plan when so many others are trying to sell it.
So here's my take on the right way to sell Obamacare, whether you're for or against it:
First, it you're going to sell Obamacare -- and it sure needs selling -- what you sell isn't nearly as important as how you sell it. This isn't news. Microsoft's ill-fated Zune was arguably a better device than the iPod (the Zune included a radio), but marketing has never been Microsoft's strong suit, and because they didn't know how to sell the Zune, they were crushed in the marketplace by a company who knows marketing all too well.
Selling the wrong story is no isolated case for me. In fact, this is where I usually come in working with clients, and I suspect the administration is making the same mistake as so many others: They're not selling the wrong product; they're selling the wrong message.
In the case of Obamacare, not only is each state selling the wrong message, each state is selling its own version of the wrong message, which only confuses the public even more. Think about this: All 50 states can choose one of three programs that offer health care to their residents, which means there are at least 150 ways to localize the Obamacare story -- none of them even similar to another. So clearly, localizing the story is a really, really bad decision.
On top of that, you can layer those states' inability to choose an ad agency capable of producing a coherent ad campaign that clarifies the benefits of Obamacare (check out the interview, including Oregon's pitiful example
) and pretty soon you've got a major communications disaster that only confuses people even more.
As far as I can tell, the sales message should be as unified as the program's options. One story about one simple structure for one set of reasons -- aimed at one target market: In this case, the target market is young people, for a few reasons:
1. More premiums and less payout means young folks prime the pump for less healthy people. In case you didn't know, the primary engine for Obamacare is young people, who typically don't hit up their insurance because they don't need to. They're young, strong and healthy. So they can pay in for years without ever placing a serious medical claim. Fewer payouts means more cash to cover the expenses of older people who are more prone to failing health.
2. Young people have more disposable income than any other group. True, they earn less than older people, but typically, their overhead is way lower, so they keep more of every dollar they earn. That's why so many twenty-somethings share apartments with roommates while buying every conceivable overpriced fashion and tech accessory thrown at them.
But this is the most important, overlooked point:
3. Young people are idealistic and will buy into a "giving back" message more readily than any other segment of the population. The minute a video goes viral on a social injustice or natural disaster, the youth of America points and clicks and texts its donation to the victims. I mean, these guys will donate to anything, and double the donation if a celebrity is attached to it.
That's what the Obamacare marketers should be doing: Unifying a message that portrays enrollment as a way of "giving back" to the society that came before them, taking care of the less fortunate, looking out for mom and dad who gave them so much. It should portray enrollment as a rite of passage, an acceptance of real American citizenship and the responsibilities that go along with it.
In short, Obamacare should be sold as American youths' chance to step up. Let's face it, nobody gets drafted anymore. Most don't even do jury duty. "Everyone doing his fair share" is certainly as applicable to the average citizen as making the super rich pay a special higher tax rate, right?
That's the kind of thing that goes viral with video, hashtags and all the rest of the groupthink that American youth just can't get enough of.
Hey, I was the guy back in before Obama's first term that decried his one word campaign slogan as overly-broad and simplistic. Remember all those bumper stickers that said, "Change?" Well, it was the youth who most wanted that change. Well, now they've got change.
All the Obamacare people need to do now is tell them where to send the money.