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Viral Marketing Lessons From The BuzzFeed Video For ACA 2015 Enrollment

The latest BuzzFeed video touting enrollment in ACA-compliant health insurance plans is a winner.  Plenty of social media addicts grokked its significance immediately, and plenty more people shared it enthusiastically.  Millions of people clicked on Healthcare.gov as expected.  I must admit I could not make hide nor hare of it when I first watched it.  There must be a generational divide at work.

Effective advertising normally requires some build-up to a call to action.  In this video, the call to action "sign up for health care" is buried in the middle at 0:50-1:00 with no context other than the star making funny faces.  The ad could have ended right there to make its point, but later wanders into the #thanks meme that diminishes the ad's message.  Mentioning the meme calls attention to Healthcare.gov's critics without addressing their criticisms.  That's why this doesn't work as a traditional ad.  Compare it to the most beloved Super Bowl ads of any year.  The typical blockbuster ad manages to be cool by associating cool images (people and/or animals having fun) with a call to action at the end: drink our beer, test drive our car.  The product is also displayed visually somehow (the car in motion) with the brand superimposed.  This is so even the most ADHD-afflicted viewers can't miss it.  Compare that very effective messaging to this BuzzFeed video, which depends on tech-savvy people who are already cued in to the message to explain it through social media shares.  Again, this would not be effective messaging in a passive medium like a TV commercial.

Viral sharing among Millennials turns traditional advertising inside out.  I shared this video via Facebook and saw the generation gap firsthand.  My slightly older friends at the high end of Generation X thought it was pointless.  My younger Millennial friends loved it for the main star and the disguised message.  They didn't even notice the non sequitur text explanation under the video of how a selfie stick somehow leads to a desire to sign up for health insurance.  The mere display of a link to something is enough of a call to action for Millennials.

The video is phenomenal for its innovative take on the #thanks meme.  The original #thanks propagators were critics of the health care mandate who saw their premiums increase or had serious problems logging on to enroll.  In a capitalist economy, any corporation that saw its brand name dragged through the mud by millions of customer complaints would immediately rectify the situation with some combo of lower prices, better service, and a marketing campaign to explain their progress.  The BuzzFeed video mocking the #thanks complainers turns that customer service philosophy on its head.  Complaints about health care services are meaningless when a mandate compels compliance.

It wouldn't have mattered if the star of this video were a notable human or Grumpy Cat.  Social media addicts only need to recognize two things:  a celebrity appears, and there's a link to be clicked.  YouTube has trained humans to click embedded links that appear in fun videos with the expectation that another fun spectacle awaits.  Facebook has trained humans to click the Like button after watching something funny.  Clicking ahead to a government compliance site is exactly what a trained audience is supposed to do.  No critical thinking is required.

America is not a monarchy, despite the pretensions of our hereditary elite.  Our leaders endear themselves to us by exhibiting self-deprecating humor.  President Nixon showed us how to have fun when he said "Sock it to me?" on Laugh-In.  America loves to be entertained.  Mandatory health insurance can be entertaining, mostly for those who watch the payments roll in.  A spoonful of sugar from a viral ad helps the medicine go down.