President Obama Searches “Between Two Ferns,” Finally Finds Audience

Early Tuesday morning, President Obama appeared in the newest episode of Between Two Ferns on A comedic interview series hosted by Zach Galifianakis, Between Two Ferns places celebrities in prickly situations by peppering them with intrusive questions while they literally sit in between two potted fern plants. A major PR gamble for the President, his debut on the satirical video show was part of his final surge to spread his healthcare reform message to young Americans before the 2014 application deadline—and it seems he finally found his audience.

Success at Last

For months Mr. Obama’s administration has been criticized for not doing enough to promote the new U.S. health law for 2014. Most of the news coverage that his healthcare reform has seen so far has been due to glaring flaws on the website or poor execution of the enrollment plan. With the March 31 open enrollment deadline quickly approaching and a target of nearly two million more signups, it was time for the President’s administration to put up or shut up.

After the President’s risky stunt on Tuesday with Galifianakis, it’s not likely he will be receiving criticism about his promotional efforts anymore. His episode of Between Two Ferns has the best start for any video in the website’s history. And what’s more, is now the #1 source of referral traffic to


High Risk, High Reward

So why did the leader of the free world resort to teaming up with Zach Galifianakis, the guy who whipped Justin Bieber with a belt and physically forced actor Michael Cera to tickle the inside of his thighs on earlier episodes of Between Two Ferns? Doesn’t he realize how important it is to maintain the dignity of the presidency?

While certainly one of the edgier facades the President has displayed in the public eye during his tenure, he kept his composure and was careful not to offend anyone other than Galifianakis himself (which he did quite remarkably, by the way). Mr. Obama displayed a rarely-seen sarcastic side that separated his personality from the expectations defined by his occupation. At the end of the day, as risky as it may have been to the image of the presidency, he did what he had to do to make an emotional connection with his target audience.

Audience is king

According to BusinessWeek, “Healthy young men, who often avoid signing up for insurance unless it’s offered by an employer, are needed as customers for the new insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act to help health plans balance the risk of covering older and sicker Americans.”

President Obama has attempted to crack through to this audience for a long time but has been largely unsuccessful in reaching it, possibly due to misguided efforts pushed through the wrong media channels. But with this most recent attempt, Mr. Obama hit the nail on the head. His target audience has been receptive and the numbers tell the story. The President’s administration wanted to drive web traffic to, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Measuring success

It’s difficult to predict the ultimate success of such a campaign. Between Two Ferns has aired episodes in the past during which Galifianakis promoted sponsors’ products, such as when he awkwardly interrupted Bruce Willis to apply Speed Stick deodorant to his underarms before throwing the stick to the back of the set. But that was a three-dollar stick of deodorant, not a healthcare insurance policy.

Of course, the end goal of the President’s campaign is much greater than just Web traffic—it’s conversions. All the traffic driven to from Funny or Die and the related PR buzz won’t mean a whole lot if the health insurance subscription numbers don’t grow. To measure the true success of this campaign, Mr. Obama and his team will have to wait it out.

Supplementary benefits and the power of earned media

In the meantime, earned media coverage will not only drive more traffic to the website but will also increase brand awareness and provide a great deal of social buzz for the cause—and all these benefits tie back to customers in the end. And as earned coverage gets the President’s content in front of new eyes and audiences, he will be able to erase pre-existing notions of the website’s inability to function properly—reputation management at its finest.

For more on earned media and the benefits it will provide for campaigns like President Obama’s, check out the Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Earned Media.