Marketing and Comms
How to Communicate Effectively with Young Consumers (Or, Lessons from 'Funny or Die')

This post is part of a series written by MBA and MPA candidates in Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course, examining the role of marketing in advancing sustainability across all sectors.

When a funny, awkward, irreverent spoof video can increase web traffic to the Affordable Care Act website by 40 percent in less than a day, understanding why can help your brand better communicate with young consumers.

Roughly half of all Americans saw or head about this video within a week, but if you were one of those who missed it, “Funny or Die” is a website that regularly streams the oddball Internet humor show “Between Two Ferns,” a talk show in which comedian Zach Galifianakis asks celebrities awkward questions that usually end up making him look bad. The episode of note here is the one in which President Obama appeared in March, spent a few minutes trading insults with Galifianakis and then got down to the business of promoting the Affordable Care Act with the largely millennial audience.

Reaching young consumers is crucial to the success of the ACA, and this is one of a host of ways the White House has been reaching out to the group they call the “invincibles” — or young, healthy millennials.

Within a few days, 11 million people had seen the video and White House advisor Tara McGuinness tweeted from @HealthCareTara:

“FunnyorDie.com is the #1 source of referrals to http://Heathcare.gov right now.”

“Funnyordie video has 11 million views. http://HealthCare.gov traffic for yesterday was up almost 40% from Monday.”

As with similar efforts, there have been criticisms that the casual humor channel was beneath the dignity of the office of the President, but that’s exactly why prestigious brands should pay attention. The significant traffic increase indicates that viewers took substantive, content-driven action beyond laughing, liking and sharing. Polling from the Huffington Post shows that the highest approval came from young people and Democrats, while Republicans and older Americans tended to be more critical of the episode. The millennial target audience not only watched and viewed it positively, they actually took action.

What does this have to do with marketing your sustainable brand? The episode is a great example of really meeting your consumers where they are and engaging with them authentically. This works as an advertisement to millennials because President Obama engages in the true spirit of the channel and directly calls it out as a “plug,” which it is. Much is being written about millennials these days, but a consistent theme is increased appreciation and desire for transparency, as well as higher rates of purchasing choices motivated by values and sustainability criteria.

Millennials are interested to listen to prestigious or authoritative bodies when those ‘brands’ can say what they mean, and be who they are. There is opportunity here! Even while trading base insults, President Obama carries himself with authority, while also engaging in the playful dynamic of the show. Sure, viewers probably know the jokes are largely scripted, but the President brings his own kind of deadpan humor, and is up front about what he wants people to do.

In a way, this is a much more respectful engagement with millennials than traditional 30-second TV spots. More brands should find new ways to talk to people where they are, engage on new channels, and be willing to try out the vulnerability of humor and authenticity in order to reach young consumers.

If your brand has a real message and you want to reach young people, consider why this video works. This doesn’t mean you should rush out to be the next guest on "Between Two Ferns," but consider this as further evidence that in today’s communication and marketing landscape, well-established people or brands can mix humor with truly important content and see results, if they can strike the right balance.

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