Can PR Firms Help ‘Sell’ Obamacare?

A recent story in The New York Times detailed the state of California’s efforts to lead the nation in implementing 2010’s Affordable Care Act (better known as “Obamacare”)—and helping citizens make the most of a changed health care system.

Tucked inside the article was a very interesting tidbit that has gained attention in the past few weeks: The state hired Ogilvy PR Worldwide to help promote the law through various channels including pop culture institutions like reality TV‘s “The Biggest Loser” and top scripted shows like “Modern Family.” But how will these efforts work? And how will the state gauge their success?

The Affordable Care Act presents a considerable PR challenge, because it remains controversial despite the fact that most of its key elements are extremely popular among Americans of all political stripes (oh, the horrible irony). The question: Can California’s pop-culture approach to selling the ACA succeed where the Obama administration’s own messaging efforts have failed to break through our nation’s partisan divide?

The strategy sounds fairly simple: By familiarizing residents with the particulars of the ACA and showing them how to participate, California can boost enrollment rates and help the law achieve its goal of insuring more citizens while simultaneously taming the unsustainable rise of related expenses.

But reality is always more complicated, isn’t it?

Republican representatives have just begun to properly criticize the PR plan as a partisan act paid for with taxpayer money despite the fact that the ACA is now the law of the land (and the government has a vested interest in actively promoting it). Unfortunately, this is only the beginning; there’s a whole lot more hemming and hawing where that came from.

How will the plan work? One of the proposed projects is a reality show centered on the difficulties of living without insurance, and other elements of the PR push may include advertising “on coffee cup sleeves at community colleges” and soccer games in order to reach key demographics like students and Spanish-speaking households. Peter V. Lee, who will serve as executive director of California’s state insurance exchange, would also like to see major characters on TV shows and telenovelas “talking about ‘that health insurance thing.'”

We’re very curious about how the Act will make its way into these outlets—and how the public will respond.

What do we think, PR pros? How can the parties involved best help the public make the most of the ACA’s various provisions—and how can they avoid charges of partisanship? (Unfortunately, that last issue may be unavoidable.)

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.