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Obama Uses Viral Video to Reach Elusive Demographic

Here’s how NOT to reach a target audience when that audience is in its 20s: spend decades talking about your product until the average American is numb to the idea, leave the promotion of the latest version of the product in the hands of a bunch of middle-aged politicians in suits who talk about it on TV during the news hour, and then make the primary point of Internet interaction such a failure that the already-apathetic audience completely disengages.

The product, if you couldn’t guess, is national health insurance enrollment, and the 20-something crowd was a primary target demographic. No longer covered by parental or college insurance programs, this group should have been signing up in droves.

But they weren’t.

So in the spirit of “hit ‘em where they live,” the nation’s CEO, President Barack Obama, opened himself up to some pointed comedic barbs and an occasional awkward comeback to get Gen Y to pay attention. Ah, the joys of viral video.

If Bill Clinton’s playing the saxophone on Saturday Night Live so many years ago still managed to maintain an air of panache, Obama’s March 11 appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ show, Between Two Ferns, was as in-the-trenches as he could get without performing a parody of Bound 2 with the First Lady.

Modern times call for a modern president.

Galifianakis, notorious for putting his guests on the spot, poked fun at Obama from the get-go. Obama fired back without blinking an eye. The sharp back and forth, peppered with comical awkward silences, successfully held our oh-so-fickle attention for close to six minutes. Made us chuckle, too, even when Obama moved the conversation from the international question of “North Ikea” to a plug for healthcare enrollment. And if it seemed less than presidential, it was highly effective. Where the press releases weren’t working, nor the TV spots, not the mass transit ads, the Between Two Ferns episode got results. This viral video now has 19 million views on, and 3 million on Youtube. An advantage of the online world: the reactions are immediate. On the day of the video release, traffic to spiked 40%.

The elusive demographic (Generations Y and Z), with its flickering attention span and sense of immortality (#YOLO), is known for evading the healthcare problem — let the old folks fight over it while we tweet about the drinking habits of Justin Bieber, they say. But 20-somethings are often forced to discontinue their student healthcare plans upon graduation and to break into a bleak job market with crippling student debt riding on their backs. Insurance might be on their minds, but not where their wallet is concerned. And yet even so, the enrollment numbers for the 18-to-34 demographic were surprisingly low, about 24% of where they should have been.

And so Obama braved a new frontier to turn that around. It will be interesting to see if viral video has the power to convert audience to enrollment. Stay tuned.

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