Why The Health Care Debate Is Sick

Danny G. and I joined Bill Green of Make The Logo Bigger on Bob Knorpp’s BeanCast tonight. One of the hot topics we tossed around is Obama’s apparent failure to sell Americans on his health care plan.
It’s also a topic Ken Wheaton of Ad Age took on last week.

…tackling health-care reform in the U.S. demands something approaching perfection when it comes to messaging and branding.
Team Obama didn’t come close. It never clearly defined the message; it let surrogates control the debate; it clumsily used the wrong tactics at the wrong times. Worst of all, it didn’t respect the consumer.
Quick: What is Obamacare? “A derogatory term coined by the right” may be the correct answer, but it misses the bigger point. Even at this stage, there is no one cohesive bill. Echoing those campaign promises of “Hope” and “Change,” Team Obama seemed to believe it could simply sell “Reform.”
“Reform” is a pretty vague promise — a tagline without a product.

I’d like to add that “Reform” is also not aspirational, nor hopeful like “Change”. In the meantime, the opposition has their messaging perfected. The Republicans know how to keep it simple and stay on message. In this case keeping it simple means Obama’s plan is socialism. In politics, it matters not that the argument is false, only that it’s believable.
For important issues like this I’d love to see the White House hire the nation’s best persuaders–The Martin Agency, Arnold, Goodby, etc.–to bring some shape to the story. Political advertising is really a sorry excuse for advertising, mainly because it’s handled by partisan politicians who are WAY TOO CLOSE to the issue to be effective marketers.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.