PR Tips | The Funny Side of PR

PR Tips | The Funny Side of PR

As part of the final push before the health care exchanges officially closed, President Obama made a bold, strategic, and surprisingly comedic move to drive young people to HealthCare.gov – he appeared on Zach Galifianakis’ online talk show parody, “Between Two Ferns.”

The show, which airs on the comedy website Funny or Die, is better known for hosting actors and comedians such as  John Hamm, James Franco, and Steve Carell. While it wouldn’t be out of place to see these celebrities promoting an upcoming project, the president’s decision to appear with Galfianakis to promote the health care exchanges was certainly a novel idea.

After quickly reviewing the numbers, it seems it also may have been a successful advertising tactic. Within the first day of the video airing, the traffic to HealthCare.gov rose 40 percent, with 890,000 visits to the site. And according to a HealthCare.gov tweet, Funny or Die was responsible for 54,000 of those visits – making it the top driver to the site. The video itself has more than 20 million views.

As with any viral video, much of the success came from rapid sharing through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, for young adults, it was difficult to log onto either of these sites without the interview between Obama and Galifianakis appearing in their newsfeed. Because the goal of the video was to reach this demographic of college-aged people, many in the communications industry touted it as a success.

But as with most politically-motivated moves, Obama’s appearance in the video wasn’t without its critics. Bill O’Reilly said of the interview, “All I can tell you is Abe Lincoln would not have done it.”

While that may be true, O’Reilly’s comment brings up an interesting conundrum for those in the PR and advertising world – and their clients. Obama’s appearance on “Between Two Ferns” was certainly a gamble – if it didn’t go over well with the target audience he would look like a fool, and already some believe the show was beneath his office. But the interview also provided him with the potential to reach millions of young adults in short amount of time right before the exchanges closed.

The video’s success shows that in the PR world, taking a gamble and trying a novel or surprising tactic may just pay-off right when it’s needed, but it also demonstrates the importance of knowing one’s audience and understanding the risk associated with such a move.

Elizabeth Scafuro