Reach Them Or Die: Why 'Ferns' Was Perfect Choice To Market Healthcare.gov

It’s way too tempting to devote today’s column to the way those social media-infused Internets are fueling the most wide-ranging set of conspiracy theories since the grassy knoll: the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Will power, Social Media Insider, will power!

However, for media types, social media types and those obsessed with the alleged decay-of-America-as-we-know-it, the story of the week is clearly and unequivocally the viral sensation that was the appearance of Barack Obama (he’s our president) on Zach Galifianakis’ intentionally cheesy Web show “Between Two Ferns.” (You are to be excused -- mostly because I fall into this category -- if you had never seen this “Funny or Die" series before Obama’s appearance. Maybe I should retire from the Cool Kids Club.)

Yeah, the appearance -- which Obama did to promote healthcare registration to young people -- got lots of views, not just because it was noteworthy but because it was funny, incorporating jokes about North Korea, drones, NSA surveillance and birth certificates all into six-and-a-half fern-packed minutes. As of Wednesday morning -- one day after its release -- it had 11 million views. But here are the stats that matter: traffic to healthcare.gov increased by 40% the day the video dropped, with the its Funny or Die URL being healthcare.gov’s no. 1 traffic generator.

Don’t let the carping about whether this was beneath the presidency distract you. (It wasn’t, if Lincoln’s fondness for fart jokes, or the mere fact that Dubya appeared on “Deal or No Deal” while president is any guide.) Not only did the video work, but if your objective is to reach young adults, something like appearing on “Between Two Ferns” may be the only way to market effectively to this audience using video. It’s not as though Obama doing a healthcare.gov commercial during prime time is an equivalent choice.

Both in tone (sarcastic), and medium (social video), Obama’s appearance on this show is as much a part of its time as Bill Clinton’s long ago sax-playing, as a presidential candidate on the first version of “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Contrast the “Between Two Ferns” traffic to the numbers generated for the Koch brothers anti-Obamacare ad featuring creepy Uncle Sam. Not only did this ad involve old-fashioned, analog, media buying -- making the assumption that TV is the medium of choice for those under 30 -- to date, it’s generated only 2.2 million YouTube views,  even though it got boatloads of publicity of its own and has been out for months.

 If know thy audience is the first commandment of successful content production, that campaign failed in terms of both knowing where its potential audience is and the kind of content they like.

In case the phenomenon of online, social video needed more underscoring, here are more stats that reflect the sea change. Last week, late night ratings showed that “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” was millions ahead of its competition. The show, now in its third week, had 4.5 million viewers, to Jimmy Kimmel’s 2.76 million and David Letterman’s 2.74 million.

But the numbers aren’t what you think. Yes, Fallon’s audience is younger than his predecessors. But the average age is still 54! And younger viewers -- those 18 to 34 -- have declined by 33%, to 665,000 during the show’s third week.

The real story is in online video consumption, primarily because of younger audiences (it’s safe to assume, anyway). During roughly the same time span (March 3-10), Fallon’s “Tonight Show” clips -- made with online in mind -- had 27.5 million YouTube views, per RelishMIX; “Jimmy Kimmel Live” had only 7.6 million. Letterman? Well, let’s not talk about it in polite company.

There is a vast discrepancy between those two numbers, but directionally, they say the same thing: that exponentially more people are watching the short, shareable, snackable online content both shows create than watch the shows on TV.

As the Obama camp well knows, that’s why, if you’re trying to reach younger demographics, social video needs to be your first consideration.

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1 comment about "Reach Them Or Die: Why 'Ferns' Was Perfect Choice To Market Healthcare.gov ".
  1. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost , March 14, 2014 at 4:31 p.m.
    Hey Jon, Thanks for commenting. I wasn't trying to denigrate 54 year olds...I am one! and a dedicated Tonight Show viewer during the Carson years...Leno didn't do it for me. My comment has to do with the fact that while Fallon is skewing younger than Leno, 54 ain't exactly the youth market that people think Fallon is going to bring in. Younger viewers are watching him, just not by appointment at 11:35 every weeknight. Cathy