By Robert Grupp


By Robert Grupp

Have you ever been tasked with a seemingly impossible communication objective and didn’t know where to start? 

That’s where Brad Jenkins, while serving as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, found himself in 2013 when working on the highly tumultuous and publicized topic of Obamacare. Jenkins faced the uphill battle of convincing people to enroll in something that most people were not excited about because of the negative press surrounding Obamacare and the lack of understanding about how it works.

He shared his story at the 2019 National Summit on Strategic Communications.  

In order to reach the target audience, Jenkins devised a strategy of using cultural ambassadors from both political parties to mobilize their fans and share the collective mission of online enrollment with calls to action to register online.

Except, the power of celebrity influence and the shared message of online enrollment was so effective that it led to the website crashing! The crash led to even more hostility toward Obamacare and distrust in the government in general. If something as seemingly simple as a website didn’t work, people wondered how the government could be trusted with something as complex as healthcare. 

After two months of tweaking and troubleshooting with some of the nation’s brightest coders, the website was finally back in service and ready for people to enroll. The website was ready, but the audience wasn’t interested in the message. 

Jenkins encouraged the team to refocus and realized that “with great peril and with great catastrophe you sometimes have to think big but also sometimes there are big opportunities.”

The team regrouped and decided to target healthy young men, a large share of the uninsured population in the United States and a very important audience to the success of the healthcare model. These men didn’t listen to their parents, go to the doctor, or have any interest in health insurance, but they did love to laugh. A big opportunity emerged in the form of an unlikely hero: Zach Galifianakis, an American comedian and actor known for his outlandish roles and comedy. 

Jenkins and his team knew that this target demographic would be difficult to reach and would require something unconventional and unexpected. A wild idea was born. The team had to convince the White House that the President of the United States of America needed to share the message of Obamacare and enrollment on “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” a comedy show that attracted millions of viewers. 

The online show went viral, reaching millions of people and attracting media attention throughout the world. Everyone was talking about the president’s appearance on the show. The wild idea worked and resulted in a 40% increase in traffic to, with 90% of the traffic coming from new visitors, many of whom were in the specific target demographic.

By understanding the media consumption and messaging preferences of the target audience of young uninsured men, Jenkins and his team embraced a crazy idea that worked.

By combining entertainment and politics, the message was heard loud and clear.

It worked because according to Jenkins, “you have to be able to laugh at yourself.  You have to be able to know what people maybe don’t like about you and be open to that because that’s what people really resonate to.”

To learn how to incorporate comedy into your strategy, click here.


Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins is the former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and later he was managing director and executive producer of Funny or Die DC. Jenkins was a featured speaker at the 2019 National Summit on Strategic Communications. 


Robert Grupp

Robert Grupp is Director of StratCommWorld, and Adjunct Instructor and Director of a Global Strategic Communication Master’s Degree Program in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

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