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3 Content Marketing Lessons To Steal From President Obama

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
featured, money & life

Regardless of the myriad ups and downs of its actual policy, there’s one thing the Obama administration has been lauded for all along: It’s ability to speak to young people using their language. Obama’s 2008 campaign was one of the smartest, most agile Presidential runs the U.S. had ever seen, specifically due to the staffers’ use of social media and digital content. But last week, the White House and the President’s marketing forces pulled out all the stops with one silly (but brilliant) video, shared directly to BuzzFeed’s Facebook wall.

thanks obama gif

The video, called Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About, was just like dozens of other BuzzFeed’s other extremely popular videos. Just like them, it “exposed” behaviors that most people don’t discuss (but do admit to, when pressed), and, just like other BuzzFeed content, quickly racked up oodles views and shares.

The twist, of course, was that instead of using BuzzFeed writers and editors, it used one staffer…and the President of the United States. And, unlike other BuzzFeed videos, it was a stealth advertisement for Healthcare.gov, the health care exchange started under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, whose deadline is looming.

The goal of the video is clear: Get young people thinking about (and hopefully signing up for) health care. But instead of launching an ad campaign on, say, TV or buses nationwide, the Obama administration opted to try something a little outside of the norm — and, in doing so, gave a perfect example of the advertising trend that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Content marketing.

Content marketing, which is basically just editorial or journalism that advertises for something other than the information itself, seems to be all the rage among brands. Or at least, the idea of content marketing is very popular. In theory, it’s great for all parties involved; brands are able to get their products or services in front of a wider audience without explicitly advertising to them, and consumers get something more salient and meaningful from the exchange than in traditional advertisements. Consumers, who are growing more skeptical and discerning with each passing year, also report trusting editorial content more than standard advertising, which makes it especially enticing to brands and agencies.

But how do you actually do it right? How did the Obama video manage to mostly win hearts and minds, rather than seeming like an artificial stretch, or a piece of content that tried too hard?

Here are a few lessons you can steal from the President’s clever marketing plan:

Be authentic. President Obama has plenty of critics, but he’s nothing if not likable. In the video, we see him being playful, humorous, and above all else, comfortable being a little bit of a nerd. He makes fun of himself, he plays right along with the style of the video, and, as a result, doesn’t feel out of place. Your content needs to be authentic to you and to your brand. The Obama brand has, at times, been pretty jovial, so this works for him. A sterner President would not have been a good fit.

Be realistic. This video doesn’t feel like an ad because it sits comfortably next to BuzzFeed’s other content. It’s not reinventing the wheel — it’s inserting the President and the health care exchange into what already exists.

If you’re going to try something like this, make sure everyone involved has clear expectations. You will look a little silly, you will have to put yourself out there, you will have to be OK with people making GIFs of the scenes. Your message (the thing you’re advertising) will not be front-and-center, but it will be in there. You probably won’t see a ton of cash flowing in as a result, but you will get a lot of buzz.

If you try to hard to control the content, or if you have unrealistic ideas about how it should be, rather than how it’s going to be (example: a BuzzFeed video is not a news report and it never will be), you’re not going to like the result.

#TBT to when we all drew our crushes: go.wh.gov/buzzfeed But now it's time to #GetCovered: healthcare.gov

A photo posted by First Lady Michelle Obama (@michelleobama) on

Be comprehensive. By the end of the day it was released, this video was everywhere, including across the multiple Obama Administration channels. Michelle Obama’s Instagram featured it. It was tweeted from the President’s official account with a colloquial message. There was a hashtag, there were official assets and images — the marketing team went all out and spanned all of the networks.

Content marketing is best supported by smart social and a lot of forethought. This isn’t a campaign you can just toss together. Think critically about how you’re going to disperse your message, who’s going to be involved, and which platforms work best for which pieces of content and material.

By going in whole-hog, your campaign will not only land with more people, it’ll improve the overall awareness of your brand or service. Which is really the point.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.