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Beyond Two Ferns: Online Advertising Underpins Outreach

BY Miranda Neubauer | Tuesday, April 1 2014

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Ahead of the March 31 enrollment deadline, much of the attention on the White House's outreach efforts focused on President Obama's appearance on "Between Two Ferns" along with other pushes aimed mainly at young people. But underlying the more splashy promotion efforts has also been a concerted more straightforward digital advertising push, part of the government's $52 million paid media outreach in the last three months.

There is no official complete information available about the total size and targets of the online ad buy. But the search tool of online ad intelligence company illustrates how since December to the days leading up to March 31, a variety of ads, some featuring former NBA players Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, were running on news and other sites across the country. Those have included the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun Sentinel based in South Florida, the New Jersey Star Ledger's website, the Chicago Sun Times, an Oregon CBS station, a Minnesota CBS station,, the Salt Lake Tribune,, the Yale Daily News, the Springfield, Ill. State Journal Register, the Wisconsin-based Sheboygan Press, the Denver Post, Mashable,,,, a fan site for the San Francisco 49ers football team,, and, among others.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the $52 million in total spent on paid media from January to March includes the largest digital marketing effort conducted by CMS so far, aided by extensive reporting and analysis tools for ongoing improvements to the efforts throughout the open enrollment period. With a focus on reaching young adults, CMS targeted social media and entertainment websites including Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and, while TV advertising focused on ESPN, other sports programming and TV shows including Family Guy, Revolution, Arrow, Vampire Diaries, and the X Factor. In addition, CMS also shifted part of its media budget to CBS' March Madness broadcasts and NBC's Olympics broadcasts in response to increased viewership there.

A blog post from the Media Economics Group recently spotlighted online ads targeting Hispanic audiences with the message to visit, showing how the ad campaign evolved from early ads running in 2011 and 2012 focusing on the health care program's benefits, to the more recent ads more explicitly targeting young people and emphasizing the March 31 deadline.