Hollywood Figures to Take Part in New Obamacare Social Media Campaign

'Tell-A-Friend' Effort Aims to Reach 100 Million

Barack Obama Dreamworks
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Hollywood figures are being enlisted for a new phase of in the marketing of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, in an elaborate social media campaign and eight-hour January event designed to reach young adults and other targeted groups who lack insurance.

On Thursday, Wilmer Valderrama will be among those participating in an event with Covered California and other state insurance officials to launch a campaign called Tell-A-Friend — Get Covered, with the aim to spark conversations between friends and family members about the benefits of health coverage and the availability of insurance plans on the exchanges.

“Generally, before you buy something, you need to hear about it seven to 10 times,” says Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California.”But the most important place to hear about it is through a friend.”

Celebrities, athletes and other pop culture figures are part of the campaign to spur such discussions, Lee says. The PR firm of Ogilvy has been hired to spearhead much of the campaign. He added that the Hollywood involvement is just one component of the campaign, which also will include such things as short videos from those who have signed up for coverage.

Among those also participating in the social media effort are Obama impersonator Iman Crosson, known as “Alphacat,” who is doing a rap web video with the aim of it spreading virally, along with Kal Penn, Tatyana Ali and Fran Drescher sending out messages and videos on platforms line Vine. More names will be introduced to the campaign in the coming weeks, and in the works is an 8-hour live stream event on YouTube on Jan. 16, produced at a web studio in Los Angeles. Maker Studios is producing content for the campaign, including the Alphacat video.

Producer and manager Eric Ortner, who along with Kal Penn and songwriter Bruce Roberts chairs the White House’s Entertainment Advisory Council, said that the eight hour event is not a celebrity telethon but a mix of content, including information on the “how and why” of getting coverage and stories of those who have signed up along with the appearance of some Hollywood figures who are still being lined up.

Ortner, who also is serving as senior strategist to Covered California, said the aim of the Tell-A-Friend campaign was to reach audiences that may not be getting the information about the plans, particularly those who may be disbursed throughout the country and depend on social media connection. “When you look at the core demographics of who we need to target, they are younger, healthier and more diverse,” he said. “If they are not in California, there’s a good chance they have a relative in California.”

The goal is to reach more than 100 million contacts in the campaign, organizers say, but also to move beyond the focus of the last few months on the troubles with the rollout of healthcare reform, including initial problems with the federal healthcare.gov site. The new campaign, Lee says, was in part in response to the “distractions in the discussion” after the exchanges went live in October, although the latest figures show a rise in enrollment as the federal website has been improved and other glitches have been worked out.

“Sadly, the national discussion is not about how life changing enrolling in [a healthcare plan] can be, but about glitches in a website and the ACA being used as political football,” Lee says.

The California exchange, Covered California, which has taken the lead on the Tell-A-Friend campaign, has not experienced the same troubles as the federal site, and was expected to also announce its latest enrollment figures on Thursday.

During the summer, Ortner was among those who met with White House officials to plan entertainment efforts in the campaign to build awareness for the roll out of the healthcare exchanges.In the first weeks of October, a number of celebrities such as Katy Perry, Pearl Jam and John Legend, sent out tweets, appeared in promotional announcements and, in the case of Funny or Die, were cast in amusing videos as a way of raising awareness of the need to sign up for health plans. But media attention quickly focused on troubles with the website and reports of policyholders getting cancellation notices.

Yet Ortner says one unexpected benefit to the negative attention to the problems with the website is that it has focused attention on the March 31 deadline to pick a plan without facing a penalty. “The unintended byproduct of the hiccups is they are now very aware of it,” he added.

The entertainment component of the roll out “was always going to be dynamic,” he says. “The biggest change was we no longer needed to go from awareness to a fact-based campaign. Now the attention is on where they can go find the true honest facts and get out of the clutter and go to bonafide websites where they can find out about the plans themselves.”

Funny or Die also is continuing its creation of content for the rollout, Ortner says, and its videos have recently debuted on Virgin America flights and other Virgin Produced distribution platforms.