To help sell the Affordable Care Act to young Americans, the White House recently took the unusual step of working with online video stars. The best known video from that project is an episode of “Between Two Ferns” starring President Obama and Zach Galifianakis. How did the White House get such strong results from its videos? Easy, it hired quality talent and stayed out of the way.
At the 2014 Digitas NewFront, several of the comedy stars who worked on the project spoke on a panel called “Brand Bravery on Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Conversations about the project began a year ago, said Mike Farah, president of production for Funny or Die, when he met the president at a White House Correspondents dinner. “The president’s a funny guy,” he said.
Funny or Die and the White House had several discussions about the videos’ contents before they were created, but once the hard work started the White House let the video makers do their work without interference. The process “was even easier than some brands,” Farah said. “It was a good working partnership.”
“We were nervous about it when Zach and I first met to talk about the video,” said “Between Two Ferns” co-creator Scott Aukerman. He and Galifianakis expected the rug to be pulled out from under them every step of the way. Surprisingly, however, the White House liked the first edit and didn’t ask for changes. Aukerman said he didn’t think of the video as a sales effort, but instead focused on creating the funniest video he could make. “I didn’t want it to be an ad for the Affordable Care Act,” he said.
“Nobody wants to share an advertisement, nobody cares,” said actor and comedian Aisha Tyler, who created an ad on the need for protection. “People know when they’re being manipulated.” She called her ad a giant spoonful of sugar and a little bit of medicine.
The results of the project were a success, with millions of young people deciding to visit HealthCare.gov and sign up for insurance. While brands are often hyper-concerned about their image when working with online video, the White House offers an important lesson: Hire people doing creative work that gets noticed and let them create the best videos they can. It’s a risk worth taking.