Millennials, Obamacare and President B-Rock O’Beezy

Enrolling Millennials is critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or as it’s better known, Obamacare). Yet convincing young adults to enroll poses a tall order for those tasked with marketing the new healthcare plan. How do you educate, encourage enrollment, and avoid polarizing an already wary (and perhaps weary) public?

A new effort led by Covered California, the state’s health care exchange, hopes to motivate young, typically under-engaged citizens to sign up. The $200 million “Tell a Friend…Get Covered” campaign enlists celebrities and culturally-relevant messaging to help drive awareness of the ACA among 18-to-34-year-olds and to encourage Millennials to speak with friends about its benefits.

The campaign is trendy but vapid. But the important question is, how well does it connect with Millennials? Let’s look at one of the ads featuring Iman Crosson, an Obama impersonator, selling the virtues of Obamacare to young people in what might be the first rap song about preexisting conditions.

Growing up surrounded by rap songs like Snoop Dogg’s original “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” I admit the ad instantly grabbed my attention— a good first step. In the first few seconds, though, I knew I didn’t want to take advice on something as important as healthcare coverage from a breakdancing “B-Rock O’Beezy.” The core message, “health care is cool, so you should enroll,” didn’t serve up a solid, convincing premise or nearly enough substance to ignite a desire to act.

In short, the ad entertains, but misses the mark. It first indicates a misunderstanding of Millennials’ hesitations for seeking coverage. It also lacks authenticity, which my generation demands when it comes to communicating issues or policies that affect our lives. While my peers and I appreciate pop culture references and jump at every opportunity to see the next parody on YouTube, my advice would be not to sacrifice substance for star power when it comes to critical issues like health care.

Too frequently, marketing strategies targeting Millennials seem to underestimate the intelligence of their audience. Their desire to entertain trumps the need to educate. Now don’t get me wrong, we Millennials are open to carefully crafted and uniquely targeted messaging. But we also need substance. Sadly, too many marketers leave that part out, somehow believing us to be simple-minded or uninterested in matters of politics or public policy.

The bottom line: If this campaign wants to reach Generation Y, it should ditch the talk of “healthcare provizzles” and covering “vizzles” and “dizzles” and focus instead on the program’s merits in a relevant and respectful way. In other words, take us seriously.

Enrolling in a healthcare plan is an important, even life-changing, decision. And like everybody else, Millennials need informed guidance if you hope to convince us to sign up in large numbers. As Mary Poppins said, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” but sugar, like humor, just makes it taste better. Humor may make a message more palatable, but it can never take the place of substance.

What do you think? Does Covered California’s ad make you more likely to enroll on