Moms of Jonah Hill, Alicia Keys, Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez: Enroll in Obamacare

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News

 Long before Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine was People Magazine’s “sexiest man alive,” he was “rambunctious, mischievous, naughty,” his mom Patsy Noah says in a new ad meant to get more young people to sign up for Obamacare.

Alicia Keys “was an old soul,” who “never thought she had to practice” playing music, her mother, Terria Joseph, says in the nearly two-minute pitch. Jennifer Lopez “walked at 8 months, and she was climbing out of her crib when she was a year old,” says her mom, Guadalupe Rodriguez, adding: “At one point I thought maybe she should be a gymnast.” Jonah Hill “was a prankster,” says the actor’s mom, Sharon Feldstein. He “flooded the elementary school.”

“Trust me: Us moms put up with a lot. But one thing we should never have to put up with is our kid not having health care,” Feldstein says. “Please just do this one thing and sign up for health care.”

“We nag you because we love you,” first lady Michelle Obama says near the end of the ad.

The March 31 deadline for uninsured Americans to buy health insurance or face a fine on their 2014 taxes is fast approaching. Young people are a particularly important target: To work, the insurance marketplaces known as exchanges need millions of young, relatively healthy people to join to offset older, relatively less healthy Americans.

Data released by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this week show that only around 25 percent of Obamacare enrollees so far are in the crucial 18-34-year-old group. The White House last summer said 38 percent of enrollees in each state market would need to be in that age group for the insurance exchanges to keep rates low. But it has also repeatedly said it expects younger uninsured individuals to enroll at the last minute in March, and a December Kaiser Family Foundation analysis said that even "a worst-case scenario"— in which the enrollment of 18-34-year-olds never tops 25 percent —won't lead to a death spiral for the exchanges, though insurers would "likely raise premiums in 2015" by "one to two percent."

For weeks, the aggressive campaign-style blitz to enroll young people has focused on women and especially moms — thought to be the key to reaching reluctant husbands and adult children.

This ad was produced pro bono by the ad agency Droga5, whose clients have included Chobani yogurt, cognac-maker Hennessy, and Under Armour workout clothes. The White House plans to promote the video via social media, an official said.

“Young people think they are invincible and impervious to injury. Young people also consider any long-term expenditure on their health, no matter how small, to subtract from the immediacy of more pleasurable purchases. And young people often distrust the government, no matter how sincere its intentions,” the agency said in a statement.

“It became clear to us that there was only one cohort that kids listen to: their Moms,” the agency said.

The video is the latest — but definitely not last — attempt to get more young people to buy health insurance using methods more associated with traditional marketing than political messaging

The unorthodox sales pitch continues later Friday when Obama does a question-and-answer session with WebMD.com, a bit like the housing chat he did a year ago with the Zillow.com real estate site. And earlier this week he appeared on the popular funnyordie.com parody show “Between Two Ferns” for a mock interview with Zach Galifianakis that went heavy on the deadpan humor. The White House gave the New York Times a heads-up about the "BTF" exchange, effectively ensuring that the traditional media would give the interview an enormous amount of attention. While it’s impossible to say exactly how much additional traffic the Times garnered, many political reporters who tweeted about the Obama/Galifianakis pairing confessed to their colleagues that they had never seen the show before. (The resulting Times piece did not note the Times’ place in the White House media strategy).

A few commentators harrumphed that Obama was risking the dignity of the presidency. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly declared that Lincoln would never have done such a thing, leading political columnist Jeff Greenfield to point that, well, actually, ole Abe wasn’t exactly above flouting social rules with a bit of coarse communication.

White House officials declared their funnyordie.com strategy a success, pointing to increased traffic on the HealthCare.gov site. No marketer would sneer at increased traffic, but it was unclear how many new visitors actually enrolled in Obamacare.

The approach is shrewd marketing anchored on a relatively simple concept: You go where your audience is and speak to them in a way that they understand. WebMD says 60 percent of its 156 million unique monthly visitor are women.

That was the animating principle behind another signpost in the history of presidential communications, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chat” radio addresses, which coincidentally began 81 years ago this week.

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