Why Colorado Consumer Health Initiative’s Obamacare Ads are Brilliant


There’s a lot of slut-shaming happening this week, over this:



I talk a lot about how controversy in marketing isn’t always a bad thing. Should you actively “court” controversy? For fuck’s sake: NO.

Should you stand for whatever it is that you believe in, publicly? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

There’s a slew of PR and marketing professionals who say the following: “Sit down, shut up, and make a good product that will market itself.” As in: don’t do anything that pulls you away from the mainstream market.

Then there’s folks like me and the folks at Oreo and the folks at Black Bottle Brewery who say Any PR is good PR. Any messaging is good messaging and apathy is death:

It’s OK to stand for something. It’s OK to stray from the market’s bread-and-butter. It’s OK to cause a ruckus. Personally, I loathe the politicization of a chicken sandwich – but honestly, if your ideal target market is right-wing conservatives who want a “family values chicken sandwich” (whatever the hell that is), then yes – by all means tell us your thoughts on gay marriage. If your ideal target market is someone who loves cookies and love and doesn’t mind the thought of marriage and love in whatever form, by all means paint your frosting any color you want (or all of them at once).

If this makes you uncomfortable, you have to remember that Coca Cola has been doing this forever and in all likelihood, you haven’t minded that much at all. Think about a physical can of coke, would you? The old-school typography. The color. The temperature. The way the contents of the can taste and feel.

Now think of the last Coke ad you saw. Probably something with nostalgia and cute polar bears and snow and the arctic and football.

What do those two things have to do with each other? Fucking magic, also known as marketing.

You’ll attract the kind of audience who believes in the same things you do, whatever that is. Someone who wants to belong to a community where they can feel that emotion (nostalgia, traditionalism, inclusiveness, whatever). You’ll alienate the other folks who don’t want that. And that’s OK, because they may just talk about you more. For real. Remember Howard Stern’s movie, Private Parts? There’s a great line they took from his actual research stats:

People who loved Howard Stern’s show listened for an hour and twenty minutes. People who loathe Howard Stern listened for two and a half hours a day.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen about the “Hot To Trot” ad has been focused around one of two things: uncomfortableness around the message or slut shaming.

I put to you that the message doesn’t matter: that’s why the “condoms and STD and common sense” bit is a footnote. It’s a cover-your-ass footnote – in case it does matter, and someone magically transforms into a “mama-gotta-have-it-now” hosebeast from an Obamacare ad and needs to be reminded that common sense and a condom go a long way toward good health practices.

The ads don’t comment on the quality of your decisions: in fact, they all seem to say “whatever you like to do, it doesn’t matter”. Just have insurance so you don’t have to worry about it. Binge drinking? Sure, whatever. It happens in college. Rampant sexcapades? Sure. Next. Wildly carving a pumpkin with a butcher knife and not one of those $20 orange plastic toolkits? C’mon now.

Let me put it this way: are you any more likely to go buy one of those orange plastic toolkits after seeing this ad? Or are you going to teach your kids about responsible knife behavior? Or hand ’em a machete and let ’em go at it? Or does it have no influence on your pumpkin carving ritual whatsoever?:

Trick or Treat It

In the much more likely context that you either 1) totally disagree and talk about the “Hot To Trot” ad (leading you to the other ads), or 2) totally agree (no one who owns their own sexuality in this way would think of themselves as a slut) and then go get insurance – this is pretty solid marketing. Even if you were totally incensed, wouldn’t you take a look at the other ads to see more? And wouldn’t that message stick with you? And wouldn’t you them be more likely to do the thing that the ad was talking about, or not?

Three things we should all acknowledge:

  1. college kids drink,
  2. college kids have sex, and
  3. college kids are encouraged to think out of the box (that’s what college is for, after all)

When you create an ad talking about a woman owning her sex life to this degree, and most of the public response/outcry is a rampant, week-long slut shaming, doesn’t that get you a little concerned? Notice how they cover image is very rarely about the binge drinking ads and almost always the “Hot To Trot” ad?

What Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and ProgressNow have done, brilliantly, is expose the crux of health care issues raised by those who say we don’t need reform. Namely, that neglectful parents, single mothers, sluts, binge drinkers/alcoholics, clutzes and “those damn broke college kids” are the problem behind excessive health care costs. They’ve done it while discussing why health care and health insurance should be available to all these folks – using caricatures of those same “problem” individuals.

And it got you, me, and everybody’s moms talking about the ads. And then, talking about health insurance without involving a doctor’s office, a horrible injury, or a long phone hold with the insurance company.