After a few too many Shirley Temples the other night, a friend and I devoted a full 40 minutes to debating evil in one of its milder incarnations: the tendency of our kids’ day-care center to send everyone home if the forecast calls for anything other than San Diego weather. This evolved into a philosophical discussion about blackmail and how we’d respond if, following the endless holiday-week break, the school premised re-opening upon the prompt delivery of additional tuition or “supply fees.”
In the end, we agreed that we’d pay whatever the blackmailers demanded without question, in unmarked non-sequential small bills. We also speculated that the school would need to hire somebody else - a billing concern, a bunch of moonlighting Olympic weightlifting team alternates, etc. - to do its dirty work, much in the same way that Roger Goodell serves as a human bomb shelter for the 32 wealthy fellows who pay his salary. Elsewhere, people spent their night gazing upon wondrous works of art and feasting upon spreadable cheeses.
For no reason at all, this exchange prompted me to take a mental leap, to wonder about brand marketing proxies. No good at this stuff? Okay, hire an agency. That agency doesn’t work out? Hire another. For some brands, finding a willing, able marketing partner has taken on the seriocomic dimensions of Larry King pursuing his next wife.
To those brands engaged in this eternal struggle, I offer the following piece of advice: hire The Onion - or, more specifically, its Onion Labs creative services arm. Because if its people can refashion Get Covered Illinois into a bona-fide original web brand with just a handful of subtle satirical bits, imagine what they could do with the crates of cash deposited on the loading docks of established brand-ad firms.
For those in places other than Illinois, it’s worth clarifying that Get Covered Illinois is the state’s official health insurance marketplace. As such, it is not interesting, probably not even to the moms of the people who work there. Really, what’s less interesting than insurance? I don’t ask that rhetorically. Insurance organizations sit somewhere on the interesting scale between plumbing-fixture firms and companies charged with monitoring the elasticity of socks. If you’re a brand-marketing person and an insurance entity walks in the door, you die a little inside.
And still Get Covered’s faux company site (for the Luck Health Plan, which is exactly what its name suggests) and far-too-believable “Health Hacks” clip manage a nifty double feat: They entertain and inform in equal measure. I am a middle-aged person, so I’ll spare myself the embarrassment of speculating about young peoples’ attitudes towards insurance. But when I was that age, I believed I was made of impenetrable carbonate alloy. I dismissed every ache and sniffle as a cosmic glitch, one to be combated by deliberately ignoring it. I’d get better, because of course I would.
If today’s young’uns are anything like I was - and I hope for the sake of their families, employers and spiritual advisors that they aren’t - they need to be convinced about the import of health insurance in a way that makes them feel nobody was trying to convince them. Alone among Internet content giants, The Onion is capable of sugar-coating that proverbial pill. So when the self-unaware “Health Hacks” idiot alerts his YouTube followers that freebie eye exams are there for the taking at the DMV, or when the Luck Plan asserts on its landing page that “You’ll be okay. Probably,” it frames the issue in a manner that’s funny and relatable - while simultaneously calling into question the intelligence of anyone who’d leave himself exposed.
God bless ‘em, Get Covered Illinois even okayed a subtle bit of political rhetoric, an icon on the Luck Health site that reads “Obamacare/We Put This Here For Web Traffic.” It’s all funny and it’s all on point from a messaging perspective. Between the clip and site, the Luck Plan’s Twitter feed, the sublime second installment of “Tough Season” and TED-talky bits for Home Depot, Onion Labs is operating on a higher plane about now.