SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

October 31, 2013 15:26 ET

The Affordable Care Act Brand Requires Strong Medicine: Christopher Johnson CEO of Whitehorn Group Prescribes a Dose of Brand Strategy for Obamacare

Why It Is Critical to Resolve the Bipartisan Market Confusion Between Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - October 31, 2013) - Ever since the rollout of the Affordable Care Act most Americans are still confused about the law's most important provisions. A recent polling by the Kaiser foundation found that half the public said they didn't have enough information about the law to know how it will impact their families. Many people do not know how Obamacare works and what benefits it truly delivers. Despite this confusion, many uninsured Americans still indicate that they plan to buy insurance under the law. In fact, websites for the new Affordable Care Act exchanges were crushed by millions of people trying to buy health insurance.

The confusion over the new Act is nothing new. According to public policy and health experts, Americans also know little about the details of programs like Medicare and Social Security. But this hasn't stopped these programs from working. Thus, a general lack of public understanding is not an insurmountable barrier if Americans eventually understand the general advantages of the new healthcare insurance options. Christopher Johnson says, "Clearly defining the brand as either "Affordable Care" or "Affordable Healthcare" can persuade many Americans to participate -- and see beyond the Republican assigned brand, Obamacare."

Many opponents of the new law say it is unpopular because of its contents. Johnson explains, "I have been a branding expert for more than two decades and I know that it's not always just what's in the product but the brand itself that creates understanding and participation." Recently, Jimmy Kimmel sent his TV crew out to the streets to ask people which health care policy plan they preferred -- the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Now people who have been keenly following the news know quite well that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare is one and the same thing. But the Jimmy Kimmel crew accurately estimated the confusion about the brand, and proved that many people were certain that the two terms referenced different things. They are not alone; Bloomberg recently discovered the same issue in an independent study. They found that in the week leading to the launch of the new health insurance buying exchanges, the Affordable Care Act was more popular than Obamacare on social media (blogs, Twitter and Facebook). Johnson says, "No one needs to be a branding expert to see that the Obamacare brand is sick. Call in the branding doctors, please!"

Johnson explains, "Politicians normally chose names for proposed legislation depending on whether they support it or not. The Republicans' deliberate move to name the new health plan "Obamacare" was a strategy to set the tone for how they feel about the Act. In essence they linked the Act to the Democrats to avoid referring to or supporting the President's signature health-care law as "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

But despite the multiple names the two sides have chosen for the Act, they have had both successful and unsuccessful branding exercises. In addition, both the proponents and the opponents of the law use both terms interchangeably which only serves to heighten the public's confusion. Johnson says, "The names used when branding an organization, a product, a campaign or even legislation are important and can either mean the success or death of an initiative -- Obamacare included. With the right name, a brand's success is assured. I believe that it is time for the Affordable Care Act implementers to tackle the lack of understanding about this legislation, and create a single strong and clear brand -- one that resonated with all audiences."

Is it too late to salvage the Obamacare brand? Johnson states, "Technically, it is never too late to restore the value and understanding of any brand. It only requires the right strategy, commitment and the resources to back it up." Now that government funding has resumed, the strategic teams behind the Affordable Care Act have a lot of work ahead to make up for lost time. Like any new product, the success of the new health insurance marketplace may rise or fall on how well it is marketed. The proponents of Obamacare will have to steal the show from the opponents who have so far succeeded in making the Act look doubtful and often evil. The good news is that the public is not really sure what is bad about the law or what is good about it. Johnson says, "The team behind rolling out Obamacare can take advantage of this confusion by employing the proven methods of brand strategy for the Affordable Healthcare Act."

They can do this successfully, by clearly defining what Obamacare is and also just as importantly -- what it is not. They also can keep the public's focus on the good points of the Act, while minimizing any doubts or controversy. Johnson suggests, "First step is for the team to choose a single clear name for the Act itself, which naturally communicates the benefits to all audiences." This will help tremendously to reduce the broad confusion that exists today and help to put Obamacare on the mend.

Christopher Johnson offers, "Once the brand is clarified and consensus has been achieved among those responsible for rolling it out, this learning can then be broadly applied across the Web, beginning with a revision of" Most feel that this portal is too confusing, showing multiple primary brands and also sub brands. It certainly doesn't help mitigate what Obama's administration failed to do before October 1st. Johnson says, "One very simple and smart move would be to use an alternate website address: or instead. And both of these addresses are available, I checked. This would serve to powerfully and naturally reinforce the brand -- and begin to remove the Republican stamp of Obamacare. It would also be advisable to use Affordable Healthcare in the masthead of the website and remove the awkwardly envisioned symbol and logo for Health Insurance Marketplace on the site, which is a distraction at best."

Closer examination shows the contact information and 800 numbers give no information about whom a user is potentially calling. A neutral advisor? An MD? An insurance salesperson? This is not clear -- which is not good. Many are saying that site itself is an amateur job for such an important inititiative -- one that certainly doesn't express the vitality and importance of the president's foresight and vision. This is unfortunate. Johnson says, "I have learned from my experience creating brands that the more transparent, intuitive and welcoming a brand's promise is -- the more likely a wide range of people will choose to not only participate but become advocates -- such as in my own branding work for JetBlue Airways."

Regardless of other issues, it is clear that Obama's reputation is ultimately tied to the success or failure of Obamacare. This time his brilliant speeches may not be enough alone, but a well-organized brand may be just what the doctor ordered.

Christopher Johnson may be reached at (212) 537-9129, or on twitter @Chris4Whitehorn.

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on creating brands that change markets like JetBlue Airways and Infiniti Motor Company. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize.

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, design, product innovation, celebrity branding, business strategy, global marketing and distribution.

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