Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need that 52″ plasma TV.
Yet today, you’re going to go out and try to buy it anyway.
As millions of shoppers venture out today to brave the hoards of people buying unnecessary household items, millions more are sitting at home, either unaware or unconcerned that for the first time in their lives they have the opportunity to purchase affordable health care insurance. The contrast behind the two ideas is stark and it represents the massive challenge that the Obama Administration faces in encouraging millions of Americans to sign up via the online and state-based health care exchanges. How do you convince an entire population of consumers that they actually need something when they have such a distorted view of what is actually necessary in today’s society?
The answer lies in Marketing 101.
For the millions of people that go out and shop today in person, the concept of wants versus needs essentially takes a backseat for what they perceive to be a limited opportunity to purchase an item for a reduced price. The kind of people that shop on Black Friday don’t see the idea that they’re spending $800 on a television, they instead see the idea that they’re saving $200 on a television. They don’t realize that the television itself probably cost $50 to assemble and is originally marked up to a ridiculous level before this temporary mark down. All these consumers see in the immediate impact that they can purchase an item for a significantly lower price than they could otherwise.
The science of marketing is dependent upon human beings acting irrationally, which they almost always do. When consumers go out shopping to the local grocery store, they don’t need four twelve packs of soda. However, when they can buy three and get the fourth one free, they are more likely to purchase that unnecessary twelve-pack in order to feel good about themselves. This same business model is what makes Costco so successful. Members pay a yearly membership in order to get access to discounted prices throughout the store. However, the genius in the Costco business model is that the items sold throughout the store are sold in bulk. Members know that they are getting lower prices relative to other stores and therefore don’t mind buying items in huge quantity in order to ensure they are getting the best deal on the item they are purchasing.
The question then becomes how to take this business model and apply it to the Affordable Care Act. After all, the ACA is designed to be one giant Black Friday for health insurance by essentially giving 48 million people the opportunity to shop around the virtual marketplace and select the deal that is best for them and their family. Instead of superfluous items like televisions and cookware, this marketplace sells health insurance which can literally mean life or death for the 45,000 people who die from a lack of health care each year in this country. How does the Obama Administration help convince these 48 million Americans, including millions of healthy millennials needed this first year, that they should purchase something they won’t immediately need?
There is no simple answer to this question; however, the Obama Administration would be wise to use some of these marketing techniques to reach out to the targeted population: millennials. Millennials as a whole are a very self-centered and self-sufficient generation. Many of them are on the cusp of starting their own families and up to this point have not had to consider how their own individual decisions might affect those close to them. Many of them have been on their parents’ insurance up to age 26 and have not had any catastrophic health injuries or issues up to this point in their lives. For a generation that is accustomed to living in the moment and not beyond, it is a foreign concept to them to purchase health insurance for something that might happen down the road, especially if they are currently healthy.
How do you sell a product to people who don’t need it? Simple: By using Black Friday techniques. In order to sell health insurance, the Obama Administration needs to instill a sense of urgency for millennials. They need to convince them that purchasing health insurance is a matter of life and death. Last month, The Daily Show did a tongue-in-cheek piece on how the Obama Administration was doing a poor job selling the ACA. To spice things up, they had Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame do a public service announcement about needing insurance in case of injuries. The ad was clearly a parody, but it struck a nerve: Millennials often do think they’re invincible. About three weeks later, a Colorado ad for ‘Brosurance’ appeared and was designed to convince young millennials to sign up for health insurance online using Colorado’s state-run health exchange system by showing friends engaged in risky activities such as doing keg stands or drinking beer out on the golf course.
These are the techniques the Obama Administration should be utilizing. Millennials are not invincible but need to be reminded of this. There needs to be a nationwide marketing blitz showcasing millennials on the brink of major life events: Graduating from college, starting a new job, getting married, and having kids. With each ad should be the price of a major surgery or operation for someone who is not covered by health insurance. This should include possible workplace accidents, surgeries, operations, diseases, and even cancer. These ads need to make millennials think long and hard about the risks they place upon themselves and their loved ones by not having health insurance. Like Black Friday, these ads need to convince an entire population of people that they absolutely, positively need the item being sold.
Only in this case, the item for sale is much more valuable than a plasma TV.