Between Two Ferns: Just the Right Place for Pitching Millennials

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President Obama made headlines the other week by appearing on Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns, a satirical Internet talk show on FunnyOrDie.com where Galifianakis poses aggressive questions and non-sequiturs to his guests — not the typical media appearance for a sitting president.

While it appeared random and mocking at first, the President used the segment to pitch Healthcare.gov. Immediately following, many questioned the President for agreeing to go on the show. Something so irreverent undoubtedly diminishes the Office of the President’s reputation, right? Not really.

Ultimately, Obamacare’s success hinges on sign-ups of the “young invincibles,” 18-29 year olds who have few annual medical needs, and as a result, whose premiums offset the expenses of older, more costly Americans. Any good public relations campaign must identify where the target audience gets their information. Although a news program like 60 Minutes historically might have been the go-to place for a president to state his case, if your audience doesn’t watch it, what’s the point?

Prior to President Obama’s episode, the top three Between Two Ferns episodes had 18, 16 and 14.5 million views, respectively. (For what it’s worth, 60 Minutes pulls an average of 12.4 million viewers per week). Why the high numbers — and the fundamental reason why this was such a good move by the Obama administration? The video — both technically and content-wise — is remarkably sharable.

Between Two Ferns is incredibly popular with millennials, and more importantly, it’s designed to be shared on social media. Add in such a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me factor like the guy from The Hangover interviewing the President of the United States, and it’s no surprise the video appeared virtually everywhere. (The episode currently has 19 million views.)

Healthcare coverage isn’t a pressing topic among millennials, and given how politicized the issue has become, it’s no wonder why so many of them have tuned it out. So how do you reach a tuned-out, young audience? Comedy. Good satire always has had an amazing ability to cut through the noise surrounding an issue and reframe the public’s thinking of it.

So did the gamble payoff? According to a tweet from White House communications advisor, Tara McGuinness, FunnyOrDie.com was the #1 source of referrals to Healthcare.gov last Tuesday. Whether that results in actual sign-ups remains to be seen, but it’s a good start.

I can see how more conservative baby boomers might be bewildered that President Obama would go on a mock Internet talk show to hock Healthcare.gov, but frankly given what the Administration’s communication goals were, their opinion doesn’t matter.

Politicians’ success always has been tied to their ability to relate to their constituents, and appearing on Between Two Ferns did just that. Millennials’ media habits are significantly different than previous generations, and as they get older and more engaged, the more politicians will have to adapt their messaging to reach them to stay relevant and relatable — even if it means using channels previously believed to be beneath the dignity of the presidency.

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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