02 May 2014

[branding] John Oliver Shoots Messenger, Runs Them Over, Looks Behind Car, And Backs Over Them, Just To Make Sure They're Down

Thus spake ZehnKatzen: this is what comes of being the face of an initiative and, naturally, leading with your chin.

It's writ large in more than one place: success has a million parents; failure, an orphan. And, when something huge pancakes like Cover Oregon did, a failure that's going to be talked about for years after the last lawsuit is settled, it sits at ground zero of a field where every nuclear-tipped satire missile has its gimlet-eyed guidance trained on. So, perhaps it's something we should have expected when the ads for Cover Oregon … which just begged to be called totes adorbs … became, essentially, the face of failure for those looking for the cutting gag.

The ads, which featured a sort of living diorama of Oregoniana and were peopled by members of the Portland Cello Project and folk singer Laura Gibson, were kick-ass and I enjoyed them. Easy and delightful on the eye as well as the ear, and as Oregon as f##k, had Cover Oregon been the success it ought to have been, would have been fondly seen as the face of a great, good thing.

But Cover Oregon … well, what didn't go wrong? The State of Oregon will have to assemble several new agencies to invent things to mess up just to even out the shambolic mess. Of all the state Obamacare exchanges, only Oregon's never worked. Never signed up a single person. Of course, the alternative, the paper application route, did the yeoman's job … and had the CO site worked, they would have been more than half-way to their enrollment goals within the first week. The problem with, and the reason the media let us way down about all the state Obamacare exchanges, is because the narrative was kept stupidly simple: it was all about the website. Websites, websites, websites. Obamacare is a failure because website website website.

This should not be seen as a high point in American journalism. The reportage from just about every outlet was shallower than a children's wading pool, insight-free, and only grudgingly seemed to accept that anyone was getting access to health care at all. But for every minute of reporting that progress was getting made, we seemed to get a half hour of how the IT sucked. And since Cover Oregon never worked, well, we got poster kid right here in River City. Governor K and Oracle are pointing so many fingers they have to rent extra hands just to get the job done.

Recently, it is writ, John Oliver, who made his satirical bones as Jon Stewart's relief on The Daily Show, got enough notice that he was given his own satirical news show on another network. And, judging by his performance, Cover Oregon was low-hanging fruit that was just too good to ignore. His show produced a spoof commercial that  … well, to call it acidic would be gilding the lily.

I'll be honest, at first, I giggled a bit. Some of the humor is dead-on. We do get a bit too twee for our own good out here; if the Olympics are ever held in Oregon, count on Oregonians taking silver, gold, and bronze in smug patting-ourselves-on-the back.

I thought that dude carrying the spinning beach-ball cursor across the set was genius.

But if we Oregonians are a bit too smug about our adorableness, I've got to point out that Oliver's commentary got a bit too smug about pointing out how smug we all are.

Welcome to honorary Oregonianship, Mr. Oliver.

Doubling down on the perception-as-reality tip, it really went to town on mixing up the idea that the commercials promoted Cover Oregon with the idea that the commercials were Cover Oregon before going in for the delicious, gory, satirical kill. In the end, it was clear that he was enjoying calling the entire state of Oregon idiots maybe just a little too much. 

Here's the sort of news that gets lost when the satire is as shallow as the reporting (emphasis mine):
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.
The agency that produced the ads is North, an agency that did a very effective job with your tax money, Oregonians. You should be proud; they took it seriously, did a sincere job, and got the word out effectively.

But failure is an orphan, and North gets the blame for being the bad parent, even though it ain't so.

But if you insist on sticking them with the blame, then nobody gets to complain when they own the good parts, too … people are right to be upset that CO was such a disaster, and now North has to live with the fact that their honest, passionate deft work is going to be permanently associated with a broke website, but that's life.

North is proud to be stupid f##king idiots, given the world today.

More power to 'em, I say.

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