Seeking to woo youths, White House attempts to make ObamaCare cool

Administration officials have a daunting task in the weeks ahead: making ObamaCare “cool.”

Marketing experts say a hip branding effort is what’s needed to draw people into the new health insurance exchanges set to launch in January.

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Officials working to implement President Obama’s signature program recognize the need to generate buzz, and are working around the clock to come up with a marketing campaign that convinces young people to participate.

They’re reaching out to the NFL, the NBA and Hollywood for help, and counting down the days to Oct. 1, when enrollment in the exchanges officially begins.

The administration is in a good position to secure splashy endorsements, as Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns had a deep bench of celebrity surrogates.


“Beyoncé all but took on the first lady’s ‘Let’s Move!’ platform, so imagine the pull Obama will have to sell healthcare,” said one former administration official.

“Maybe Jay-Z will even help out,” the official added. 

Celebrity endorsements, slick ad campaigns and cutting-edge online enrollment would all serve one overriding purpose for the White House: connecting young, healthy people with their new healthcare benefits.

Without participation from that demographic, the new insurance exchanges will stumble out of the gate as older, sicker patients enroll. Younger, healthier people are needed to keep premium prices from skyrocketing.

But uninsured young people tend to be least concerned with purchasing health insurance and the least knowledgeable about the Affordable Care Act, according to polling.

That’s what the administration hopes will change as a product of its celebrity and sports partnerships. 

“It’s this weird push-pull,” said one former senior administration official.

“The constituencies that have the most to gain are people under 35, but it’s a segment of the population that doesn’t think much of their health. 

“I think [federal officials] know they have to do something that piques interest.” 

One firm that’s in talks with federal officials is Global Philanthropy Group, headed by Clinton White House veteran Trevor Neilson. It represents Eva Longoria, John Legend and many other stars. 

Neilson said his clients are “looking at ways to be involved,” and it’s unlikely that he’s the only Tinseltown representative in contact with the administration.

But using celebrity spokesmen for ObamaCare could easily backfire, advertising experts told The Hill. 

“You don’t want a celebrity who is know for a high-flying lifestyle, who is out of touch with normal people,” said Brian White, a senior vice president at Vibrant Media. 

“It’s probably not Jay-Z, because what does he care about healthcare? The right celebrity could work, but I would tell the White House to proceed with caution.” 

Promoting the law is rife with landmines for the Obama administration.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of the uninsured say they’ve heard nothing at all about the new insurance exchanges. 

On top of that, some fear the law’s penalty for not purchasing coverage is too low to ensure people enroll in the exchanges. Next year, the fine for remaining uninsured will be $95 — hardly a stretch compared with the cost of insurance, though the fine will rise to $695 by 2016.

In one heartening sign for supporters of the law, the same Kaiser survey found that most 18- to 25-year-olds see carrying health insurance as “very important.” 

“The healthcare law is a big opportunity for a lot of young people who are uninsured,” said Alex Miller with Washington Bus, a nonprofit group that promotes political engagement among young people. 

But Miller cautioned that the administration could strike out if its healthcare campaign seems inauthentic. 

“There’s a perception that to talk to young folks, you have to approach it with a ‘cool kids’ vibe,” Miller said. 

“What we’ve found is that when you’re authentic and clear, you’re more effective.” 

Experts suggested that the administration come up with a clean, simple tagline for the healthcare law to emphasize its benefits. 

That slogan, if done right, could help to undo years of negative press for the law, they said. 

“The objective is to get people to look at this program with fresh eyes,” said Allen Adamson, managing director at brand consulting firm Landor Associates. 

“Right now, it’s buried under a mountain of negativity. If my favorite celebrity says in a commercial ‘Let me talk to you about ObamaCare,’ I’m just going to change the channel. 

“They have to pretend that this law is a whole new product — maybe ‘ObamaCare 2.0,’ ” he said. 

Advertising executives also urged the White House to make sure the online enrollment system matches the tone of the campaign. 

Consumers like white space, fast load times and online forms that indicate how close a user is to the end, experts said. 

“Most of this is common sense,” said White with Vibrant Media, a leader in content digital advertising. 

“You don’t want a slick ad campaign that directs people to a stodgy government page.”  

Amie Parnes contributed.