You’ve probably already seen President Obama’s appearance last week on “Between Two Ferns,” the satirical interview show hosted by The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis. There to plug the Affordable Care Act, President Obama got a lot of criticism from most corners of the media – not for his message, but for his choice of medium.
Predictably, a lot of pundits proclaimed that the appearance wasn’t “presidential” or “undermined the office of the president.” But regardless of your politics, any good PR pro would have to admit that the White House followed the top tenets of PR and marketing: know your audience, and reach them where they are.
This particular appearance was aimed at Millennials in an effort to get them to sign up for health insurance through healthcare.gov before the March 31 deadline. The President has been publicly advocating for the ACA for many months, but enrollment among young people has lagged. So what’s any good marketing and PR pro to do when a particular audience segment isn’t responding? Reach them where they are.
Which is why Funny or Die was such a savvy choice of platform; it’s a site with noted success in the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic. A lot of the commentators who didn’t “get it” or didn’t like it were, unsurprisingly, not in the target demographic.
Now that the dust has settled from President Obama’s appearance, let’s look at a few PR and marketing takeaways:
First, it’s OK if your medium isn’t universally appealing. There’s a reason it’s called targeting – every target demographic will respond to different things. President Obama’s team knew they were trying to reach an audience who wants to be entertained and doesn’t watch much live TV, so arranging a spot on a live-aired television show would not have adequately reached the target audience. The Huffington Post reports that 25 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 saw the video, so perhaps the segment isn’t as large as the White House had hoped for, however it’s possible that that segment hadn’t been reached in other, more traditional channels the White House pursued previously.
Take your brand outside its normal realm to reach an elusive audience segment and freshen the message. Doing something unexpected grabs attention, like Beyonce did with her unannounced, iTunes-only album launch, like Red Bull did with the Stratos Space Jump, or Amazon did with its drone delivery testing video. It also helps to use a different platform to reach your audience, as Vladmir Putin did with a New York Times op-ed. President Obama routinely takes his brand to new platforms, as he did in 2012 with a reddit Ask Me Anything.
A more obvious choice of platform would have been Comedy Central’s The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but by choosing “Between Two Ferns,” the President’s team opted out of the implicit political vibe on the two news comedy shows. This not only helped reach a different portion of the target demographic, but also freshened the message on a very drawn-out issue.
Don’t define success solely by whether people like you; look at your numbers to see if the medium was a successful platform for your message. Sentiment is an excellent way to measure your media coverage, but it’s not the only indicator of success, especially if you’re looking to increase referrals, sales, or enrollment. Look at other key metrics like traffic increase and numbers of sales or referrals. The President’s spot, despite positive and negative segment, was successful in that the video garnered more than 11 million views and traffic to healthcare.gov jumped 40 percent on Tuesday. Whether it was ultimately successful in increasing enrollment remains to be seen.
Do you think President Obama’s platform was a successful one? How do you adapt your platform to your audience?