Yes, John Oliver, We Are Stupid Fucking Idiots
To the highly valued employees of NORTH and our cherished creative and strategic partners:
As you probably know, one of the tv spots we created as part of last year’s campaign to drive enrollment in Oregon’s new ACA exchange was brutally parodied by John Oliver on the debut of his new HBO show this past Sunday. Images from our campaign have also recently accompanied scathing reports by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, and pretty much every conservative blog in the known universe.
Now, you may think none of this is fair, given that we have had nothing whatsoever to do with the $200m+ dollars spent to build Cover Oregon’s online application portal.
You may also think it’s unfair to single out that particular tv spot from the many different ads we created, this one made specifically to connect with mothers, the primary drivers of health care decisions in the family, and always meant to be but one part of a much bigger whole that would reach all Oregonians, regardless of income, ethnicity or geography.
You may think it’s especially unjust because our work helped delivered the numbers: awareness of Cover Oregon through advertising increased nearly 70% in only four months prior to the first enrollment window in 2013. And on that first day of enrollment, a third of a million people came to the website to sign up. Had it been working, it’s a safe estimate we would have been more than half-way to enrollment goals within the first week. Relative to the marketing budget, along with the many efforts of the Cover Oregon marketing team, we created real return on taxpayer money.
It’s also never mentioned that as portal delays and bad press persisted, we hunkered down, responded with ads that were transparent, honest and informative. We worked especially hard with the Cover Oregon team to move people toward paper applications through agents and sign-up fairs.
Most importantly they fail to mention that, despite the broken portal, more than 250,000 Oregonians who previously had no access to health insurance were still able to shop for, apply for, and obtain coverage. Even with no online portal, Oregon is in the middle ranking for state enrollments. Remarkable, given the circumstances, and also a tribute to the tireless efforts of Cover Oregon’s communications and marketing staff.
So, is it fair?
Well, Mr. Oliver and others are quite right to expose and even parody the costs associated with the portal’s dysfunction. They’re also right to be angry at the damage potentially done to the ACA’s national momentum and to supportive politicians in the upcoming mid-terms. Unfortunately for us, our passionate, hard, honest work will forever be associated with a broken website. So no, that’s not necessarily fair, but it is how the world works.
More importantly, are we, as Mr. Oliver suggests, stupid fucking idiots?
Given the world today, you have to be a stupid fucking idiot to want to help activate a legislation so controversial.
You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to suggest a strategy that unites people around a common good before selling them on something as complicated as health insurance.
You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to think advertising can actually help improve the quality of people’s lives.
But at North, we welcome stupid fucking idiots. And I’d do it all again just the same, proudly.
Although, next time I’d probably leave the website out of the ads.
principal, chief creative officer