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Barack Obama Between Two Ferns: Digital Marketing Win

Head to head with Zach Galifianakis and between two ferns, Obama shows the rest of us a little something about a forward-thinking digital marketing strategy.

Head to head with Zach Galifianakis and between two ferns, Obama shows the rest of us a little something about a forward-thinking digital marketing strategy

Barack Obama’s digital marketing team took the country by storm in 2008 with an unprecedented understanding of how to use the internet to rally a young, wired audience – and they did it again in 2012.   Once in office, Obama hired experienced digital marketing pros (one example: his former Director of Citizen Participation is now a VP at Twitter), and – website woes aside – he’s proven, over and over again, that he’s willing to trust the people he hired to guide clever, well-crafted and thorough digital marketing programs.

And so it was not entirely a surprise for me to see President Obama sitting between two ferns and across from Zach Galifianakis; I’ve been watching this strange web series since the days of Charlize Theron, and for Obama to participate in this sort of quirky online cult series is exactly the sort of genius content marketing that helped him get elected in the first place.  In this case, Obama’s aim is to get young, wired folks to sign up for healthcare before March 31st (because if you don’t, kids, you may be fined).  Here’s the video:


This video has led to some pretty amazing results: was the #1 referrer to  the day after the video launched, and has led to a sustained 40% increase in traffic over the past week.  I myself did a little social listening to see what folks were saying, and here are the results:

digital marketing win for obama and between two fernsObama between two ferns: digital marketing win

Now, as you might see in the conversation cloud, the success of this video and its mission (to encourage folks to sign up for health care at has also occurred via an  incremental avenue I didn’t expect: while I was more delighted than surprised to see “The Last Black President” (as per the video) sitting across from Zach Galifianakis, I was legitimately surprised to witness the ongoing surprise by conservative pundits (most notably Bill O’Reilly) on FOX news.

Truth be told, the conservative backlash is how I found out about the video in the first place: I was watching FOX news on an ellipse machine at the gym in Texas before heading into sessions at SXSW last week, and there was a panel of folks on FOX expressing their disapproval of the President’s participation in this video.  Of course, using popular media to reach a specific audience isn’t a new Presidential tactic: Nixon was on “Laugh In,” John McCain and Hillary Clinton were both on “Ellen” during the 2008 primaries, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were both on “Sautrday Night Live,” and George W. Bush went on “Late Night” with Letterman.  But this is the first time that a President has used a web series to reach an audience – let alone a quirky, lesser-known web series produced by a comedy website and hosted ironically by That Bearded Guy from “The Hangover.”

And so it would seem that the perhaps inevitable bi-partisan backlash that happens in America when one political camp sees an astounding success from the other via a new way of looking things is adding fuel to the viral fire of this video.  The backlash itself is now news: Stephen Colbert did a send-up that is itself making headlines, and a simple Google search will lead to a variety of editorials talking about the conservative reaction to a bleeding edge content marketing play.  (This is why “fox” is showing up in the above word cloud.)

Regardless of which way we lean politically, from a content marketing and digital strategy standpoint this video was the most innovative, brave and successful online marketing campaign from a President yet.  Whether Abe Lincoln would have done it is anyone’s guess: Bill O’Reilly says no, but Lincoln was in fact the first wired President by virtue of the telegram – and he was very forward-thinking in how he used it.  What we do know is that – with 19M views in a week on and about 3M more on YouTube – this video is, quite simply, doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

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