road to nowhere

How to Waste Money Trying to Sell a Patently Flawed Product

I guess it is a matter of Murphy’s law, but the massive waste of money spent to promote a doomed product nicknamed “Obamacare” continues. I won’t get into politics as that is not the purpose of my article, but take an objective stance on what happens when you are forced to sell a product that will not sell.

I will preface this by saying, I have specialized in moving products that won’t sell in the course of my career and have a solid track record in coming up with creative ways to move those products. So let’s have a look at basics and see what has gone wrong:

In analyzing whether a certain product can be successfully sold, there are certain things that need to be examined.

First and foremost, the most important task is looking at the product you are trying to move. In the analysis of the product it is necessary to be objective and realistic.  Sometimes a way to move a product by changing its perception can be achieved and sometimes it can’t.

So let’s look at the product named “Obamacare”.

First of all the nicknaming of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as Obamacare although as an endearing term to some, can be misconstrued by many. You see your perception of this depends on your perception of the President. Therefore if the perception by the majority is good, then the name will reflect positive qualities.  If the perception is negative it will conjure bad things in a consumer’s head.

So taking this into account, then the current perception realistically has to be considered and this perception is mostly negative.

Then there is the disastrous roll-out and website with flaws beyond belief. And the reckless disregard for people’s personal and private information — blatant lack of security.

Then there are the repeated lies (ok — deception to many of you) about how wonderful it is, and how you can keep your doctors… and how you can keep your insurance… and how many new jobs it will create… and they are all — in reality — repeated, purposeful lies…

And the worst deception of all IMHO — that those with pre-existing insurance will finally have a chance to be covered (but that’s another story— back to the subject).

Moving products with a negative image is very challenging, extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve. Therefore if the government had asked me to sell this Obamacare health plan to a specific market I would have been up front and told them it was going to be more difficult as there is a negative perception about the product by many consumers.

Now money apparently isn’t an issue as it seems there is a bottomless pit from which to pull money to do what this client wants. To me, all the money in the world will not entice me to take a job where I don’t feel I can successfully accomplish their goals.  I can hear some of you say — “you’re crazy — take the money!”

But my reputation would be at stake and why would I want to take on something I know wouldn’t work?  “How do you know?  If you are that good then you could have come up with something… maybe it would work!… and what difference does it make if you waste the client’s money?”  Really what matters is that to build and stay in business you need to be up front and realistic in your estimations of what can be accomplished.

You need to have a good track record at success to survive in the ad biz… As down the road you may find some backhanded comment will arise somewhere — even as a joke — that can bring your capabilities into question and that comment can have derogatory ripple effect on people’s perception of you and your firm.

Keeping this advice in mind, let’s go back to analyzing this product.

We discussed the predominately negative nickname of the product. So let’s look at the official designation — the Affordable Care Act. The name of this legislation says on its face you can afford this healthcare. At a minimum it can be said it implies the product is cheap enough to be  obtained. But the opposite has been found. Therefore this too has negativity tied to it.  So the name is a misnomer.  The intention may have been good, but the name is really deceptive.  Given that fact, then the nickname Obamacare doesn’t sound quite so bad…

Next in line is the website to which a consumer is urged to go to purchase this healthcare insurance,  Now government sites have a perception of being helpful and full of information so that aspect is good. Yet this website has had problem after problem and has received a LOT of bad publicity.  The worst aspect is the perception that if you put your information on this site it is not secure. Even in 2014 people are still skeptical about how much of their information is compromised. They become more protective and caution about where and what they put online. Personally I would never intentionally put my information on that website. I know it cannot be secure.

So as a professional, how can I convince others to do so?  This creates an ethical dilemma but not one that is insurmountable.

See in advertising you have to learn to love every product you sell, whether you hate it or would never buy it.  It is your job. You need to divorce yourself from personal opinion and bias and concentrate on the good things about the brand or product or both and convince people to become interested and buy…

So keeping this in mind, let’s look at the next important thing — your target audience:

You have several groups that are initially receptive to the site and eager to participate:

• Those who qualify for free Medicaid and want something for free

• Those who have low incomes and are have the perception the money promised from the government will give them healthcare for very little or for free

• Those with pre-existing conditions who now believe they can get coverage they were denied before

• Those with ongoing health issues who have no choice but to have insurance

These groups feel they have more to gain, than to lose.

Then you have groups who feel they have no choice but to go to the site:

• Those who lost their healthcare coverage and feel they need a subsidy to get insurance again.

• Those who had pre-existing insurance through the government plan PCIP that ended.

• Then there are those who blindly follow as they trust in the government

• Those who feel insurance is expensive but the government is there to help and are convinced they will realize savings because it is Obamacare.

This segment of the population is not very internet savvy, has no idea what security of information means and feels if the government is offering it  that it must be good . They also do not want to pay a penalty for not doing what they are told.

Then we have the groups that are skeptical of the mandate and the online offerings:

• Any young person 20-40  that sees through these “healthcare offerings” and think it is too expensive and don’t trust putting their information online.

• People in good health who find the insurance too expensive and question why they need it in the first place and why they should pay into a system that benefits older sick people.

Then there are groups who feel they do not need Obamacare:

• Young adults up to 26 who remain on their parents’ policy

• The almost 65 and 65 plus Medicare crowd

• The invincible youth who believe they don’t need insurance (of which I was one once)

So look how segmented our target audience is already!  And I may have missed one or two in there…

Keeping in mind the diversity of these potential consumers, do you feel it will be easy to come up with let’s say one campaign to effectively reach them all?  Of course not.

So what groups do you target and what is the best way to reach them?

f this were your account, one of the first things you would have done is to have read everything possible about Obamacare and delved into this healthcare insurance stuff head first.  You would be living and breathing Obamacare until you found the solutions that would work. Through your research you would, at a minimum:

• Have discovered that unless you got a large number of healthy people, most of which are young that the plan wouldn’t work financially.

• Have discovered that the prices for plans in this healthcare marketplace were not cheap as claimed.

• Have found that now coverage for children, for example pediatric care, had to be part of the insurance policies of everyone whether the policyholder was 60 or 25.

• Have discovered women in menopause or past child-bearing age are mandated to have childbirth coverage, which they could never use. In fact it seems, and ridiculously so, that men have to pay for maternity coverage too.

• Have discovered the majority of the plans on have such a high deductible that whomever buys a policy with a $5,000 deductible will be paying for everything themselves probably for most of the year.

• You would have learned that these “free” annual doctor preventative care visits are only free if they find nothing wrong. Otherwise there are copays.

• You would have learned that if people are eligible for a subsidy that if you compare the cost of a policy with a subsidy with a similar plan direct from an insurer with no subsidy that you can get a policy with a low deductible for as little as $200 more a year, when calculating total out of pocket costs for a plan.

• You also would have realized that a person with a pre-existing condition who knows they need treatment or tests would be better off with NO subsidy and paying the higher premium and a lower deductible.

• You would then have realized that the cost of that insurance with a low deductible is about 70% higher in premiums.

• You would have seen that there are loopholes for insurers to not pay for pre-existing claims for up to one year depending on where you live.

• You would realize that while it is a real benefit for those with pre-existing conditions to be able to get insurance policies seems awesome on its face, it could be effectively worthless due to loopholes in coverages of pre-existing conditions and drug cost schedules.

• You would have seen insurance pricing for our young college graduates is not cheap.

• You would have realized the mandated new coverages for child birth and child care although good in some regard, drives the price up for all who do not need the coverage.

• You would have seen how the plans differ in price with narrower provider lists for less expensive policies.

• You would have seen if one were to get a cheaper policy or Medicaid they may have to drive over an hour to see a doctor.

• You would have realized the latter would not be cost-effective for people with middle to lower incomes.

• You would have realized it is hard to find a plan that has all your current physicians on it.

• You would have seen that “peace of mind knowing you are covered” sounds good at first, but that the statement is not really true when you read policy terms.

• You would have seen that many policies force consumers to come up with $5,000 up front before the insurance company will even THINK of paying ONE PENNY towards a claim.

Wow… So in summation, you would have seen you have a task of epic proportions in trying to simplify reasons why all these different prospect groups should want to buy a flawed product like Obamacare.

After your research you would have seen things are not easy to explain. And how difficult it will be to try to sell people insurance coverage that when you really read the fine print will most likely be unaffordable, the antithesis of its name.

You would know that the benefits of the plan are nebulous at best and that your job is to sell people on the idea of this coverage. But you would know in your gut the plan is misleading at best.

You would see that if you really wanted to pull big enrollment numbers you would have to twist the truth in your ads to have any hope at all of pulling it off… and do everything in your power to have your prospects only see the good intentions and not the reality.

OK —  You have learned by your research you have one VERY flawed product with a large range of prospects. So how do you go about coming up with ideas to make this product move and get people to participate? Now what do you do?

You have a client with bottomless pockets — how would you get people to participate?

What can you do to better convey the message?


We are asking the wrong questions.  Here is what we should be asking ourselves:

1) Could you sleep at night knowing you purposely deceived the public into thinking they were going to benefit from this healthcare plan after what you learned?

2) Could you in good conscience sleep at night knowing you are ripping off the American people, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to push a flawed product utilizing false advertising?

3) Are you that greedy to do that knowing you are playing with other peoples’ lives?

4) Do you have a conscience?

See there is a point where you have to draw the line. Sometimes it is a very fine line, but a line nonetheless.

Can you cross it?  Should you cross it?  Well a lot of people are apparently.

The point of this article is not about how to sell a flawed product. The lesson here is in Ethics in Advertising.  Ethics that in this case have been non-existent.

Ask yourself why these ads haven’t been brought up for false advertising?

Why aren’t ads by the government subject to the same laws corporations and individuals have to abide by?

Why this continuing double standard with political ads (as that is just what they are)…?!

Then ask yourself could you do these ads for this client? Could you sleep at night?

I am sure there are those out there reading this who could (or have).

Personally I could NEVER sleep at night defrauding the American people like this. It’s like advertising a car claiming it is safe and knowing it is not.  It’s fraud.  That simple.

Sometimes you have to draw the line… it’s called Ethics.  And there is far too little of it out there. So this is my lesson…

I hope you reach into your soul and listen to your conscience and have the guts to say NO to a client.  Have the guts to stand up for what is right. See ethics in advertising allows you to sleep at night.

This author sleeps at night. I hope you will too…

-Geri Konstantin