Oregon Blows One-third Of Obamacare Ad Budget On ‘acid Trip’ Commercial

If you thought Minnesota’s Obamacare advertising campaign – in which a Paul Bunyan statue gets beat up  like Mr. Bill on old Saturday Night Live episodes – was odd, take a look at Oregon’s new contribution to the nation’s $1 billion Obamacare promotion effort.


Posting at conservative website HotAir.com September 17, blogger Mary Katherine Ham likened the new Cover Oregon spot to an “acid trip,” noting that “[i]t includes no actual information about the health care exchanges, but a retro hipstery busker flying over the Orwellian rainbows of Portland.”

She may have been the harshest critic, but she was far from the only one.


That’s because no matter where anyone sits on the political spectrum, three facts about the commercial are indisputable:

  • It’s essentially information-free, containing not a single word or image having to do with health care, health insurance, Obamacare, or state exchanges – just a three-second title with a toll-free phone number and a website address at the tail end.
  • In both content and style, it appeals to its target demographic’s grandparents.
  • At $3.2 million for air time and production, it cost just under a third of the state’s $9.9 million Obamacare marketing budget.

In an animation style that looks like a poor man’s Yellow Submarine, a hippie with a guitar takes flight over the mountaintops and is joined by other 1970s-style Oregonians, who form up and magically transform into the shape of a huge bird.

The lyrics he’s singing are:

We fly with our own wings,

Care ’bout the same things.

We stand strong together,

So let me hear you say:

We fly with our own wings,

Dreamin’ all the big dreams.

Long live Oregonians; we’re free to be heal-thy.

Long live Oregonians; we’re free to be heal-thy.

That’s it.

If we hadn’t told you it was a commercial about signing up for Obamacare at your friendly neighborhood Oregon state exchange, you’d have never guessed from watching it.

That’s why the Northwest Watchdog, which apparently is more anti-advertising than anti-Obamacare, characterized the spot as one of those “catchy commercials that get stuck in your head and say little about what the program is all about.”

And why Americans for Tax Reform called it “[d]evoid of information about the state exchange,” explaining that “Oregon’s newest Obamacare ad features absolutely no information about the health care law and what enrolling in the state exchange means.”

And why Ham called it “totally useless for enrolling users or helping them understand the complex system about to be presented unto them.”

That last point is critically important to Obamacare’s marketing strategy.

Missing the target demographic

The success or failure of the whole Obamacare program hinges on its ability to sign up largely uninsured, healthy 20somethings to buy extensive coverage they’re actuarially unlikely to have need of. Their overpaying for Obamacare insurance lets older, less healthy, and richer participants underpay for their participation. This is an insurance tactic called “cost-shifting” or “broadening the risk pool.”

But as we reported here less than a month ago, survey after survey shows that this key demographic’s awareness and understanding of the program are low and, if anything, declining.

Among the advertising’s key target audience – young, healthy adults whose premiums are needed to subsidize older, sicker and, yes, wealthier Americans’ claims – “a whopping 73 percent of adults between the ages of 19 and 29 are unaware of the [exchanges],” a Commonwealth Fund study concluded last week.

An information-free jingle followed by a three-second display of a URL is highly unlikely to clear up this mass confusion.

And it’s just as unlikely they’ll be paying attention through those last three seconds, when the phone number and website finally come up.

Because even in Oregon, the home of time-warped Portlandia, the commercial’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds look and feel could likely resonate far less with today’s 20somethings than with their grandparents, who were young, healthy 20somethings forty years ago, back in the ’70s.

At the very least, it’s not the most effective use for a full third of your marketing budget.

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