Top 5 Lessons From Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” Performance

That’s the sound of a 40 percent increase in visits to HealthCare.gov compared to the previous day.

It’s been slow going, but after the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration has made a big effort to reach youth to spread the word about the necessity of signing up for health coverage. Their latest tactic? Having President Obama appear on “Between Two Ferns,” the Funny or Die web series hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis.

You can debate whether the performance was “dignified” or not, but there’s little question about if it was effective. The video topped three million views in just under six hours, making it the best start for a video in Funny or Die’s history. It’s currently above 12 million views. And more importantly for the Obama administration, the video succeeded in driving traffic lots of traffic to Healthcare.gov.

So what can we and others in the public sector — learn from this? A lot, we think. Below, read our top 5 lessons from Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” performance.

#1: Don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself: Obama’s had a sense of wry humor on display like few presidents we’ve seen before — and he’s willing to show it. His presidency has played out over the same time that the viral meme has come into is own, and he hasn’t been afraid to take advantage of it (neither has his wife — you’ve seen the Jimmy Fallon “Mom Dances,” right? Humor can be a powerful tool and one that we don’t use enough.

#2: Youth (still) matter: Especially when it comes to the ACA. Plenty of jokes about millennials have been floating around for years now — but the fact is, the president needs them. Enrolling this young demographic is crucial for the health care plan to be successful. Don’t dismiss millennials; embrace. And market to them.
#3: Experiment on different platforms: The HealthCare.gov team clearly realizes that to get the word out about the ACA to youth, it can’t go to its old standbys like CNN or op-ed pieces in newspapers. They need to reach youth — and so they’re going to where the youth go. In some cases this has meant Twitter (and taking on the doge meme to mixed results) or Reddit. With the “Between Two Ferns” show, Obama’s gone to a slice of the internet where few below 40 venture — but it worked.
#4: Play to your audience: The reason the “Ferns” video was a runaway success was that it wasn’t just a blatant (or, well, completely blatant) plug for the ACA. Obama came prepped to give as good as he got in terms of hilarious insults, and therefore fit right into the “Ferns” mold. If he had just showed up on the video insisting on only rigidly promoting the ACA, the blowback would have been massive.
#5: Don’t ignore the importance of social sharing: A video or piece of content can only go viral if it’s easily shareable. The Funny or Die format puts a premium on social share buttons that are easy to use and prominently featured. The video would have done well without social sharing, sure, but it did extremely well because it was extremely easy to share on a variety of different platforms. Make sure your content is just as shareable.
You may not get 12 million hits on your blog posts, video or other digital content if you follow the five tips above — but that’s no reason not to try.

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

In the end, the key for government is to get their message to as many people as possible. This succeeded in that goal as lots of direct viewers plus a huge PR push as hundreds of articles (including this one) written about the experiment

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

Excellent summary of what was right about it.

It was an extremely funny video. Pairing up the serious cluelessness of Galifanakis’ comedy personna, and the calm patience of the Prez was a perfect pairing. For those who feel that the appearance was undignified for a sitting president, just try to imagine any of his predecessors being that cool in that context. And even though it was scripted, the man was in control, people. Declaring in a matter of fact way that Bradley Cooper “carried” the Hangover movies was a brilliant stroke. Beats wearing sunglasses and blowing sax on Arsenio Hall.

As Ali G would say: “Respect”.

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Profile Photo Sid Burgess

I found it really funny and frankly, it is just refreshing to see the President have a little fun.

For those that think he was being undignified, they’ve never served under a well-respected commander in the military. They are notorious for finding ways to show troops they mean business but can also have a good time. To me, that’s a mark of a great leader.

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Profile Photo Terrence Hill

Great lessons learned. I thought that this skit was a classic! President Obama is a master of the social networks and engaging with today’s youth. Until now, I never even heard of this show! I just hope that it rubs off on some of his administration officials and they are able to follow his lead!

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Profile Photo Dannielle Blumenthal

Completely brilliant political communication. The essence of great PR – to anticipate the opposition, articulate it, and turn it around. Whatever your political leanings, this is the President at his best.

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Profile Photo Bryan Conway JD, PMP

Your perception about the hilarity and appropriateness of this depends largely on your political perspective and your perception of the current administration. If Bush did the exact same thing, I am fairly certain that you’d get completely different reactions from everyone.

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