How to Win Bros and Influence Bros

Young, healthy people must buy insurance for the healthcare law to succeed. Pro and anti-Obamacare groups are trying piteously to bro down.

At the moment no American archetype is more openly detested, and at once pervasive and underestimated, than the bro. The bro is responsible for the propagation of salmon shorts and boat shoes as well as the sullying of the once-good name of Dave Matthews Band, among things less apparent and even more meaningful.

If ever there was a time we might say the bro could be considered a necessary entity, though, for the good of the country, it is now. A Colorado public-health ad campaign, launched today, abandons subtlety.


The campaign is a collaboration between nonprofits Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Thanks Obamacare, and Progress Now Colorado.

For months we've heard that the success of the current segment of the Obamacare rollout is contingent on these young, (presently) healthy people enrolling in exchanges and purchasing health insurance. Not all twentysomethings are bros, but an unfortunate number are, and it's enough to matter. As Jonathan Chait wrote in New York in June ("Is Obamacare a War on Bros?"), the healthy 25-year-old male without preexisting conditions or a significant family history is the demographic most likely to pay higher premiums under Obamacare than under the pre-Obamacare system. This group, with their youth and health and maleness, is hard to conjure pity for.

Last month, conservative organization Generation Opportunity, which part of the Koch brothers' empire, launched a six-figure campaign to persuade bros to opt out of the exchanges. That included a tour of college campuses, with events at tailgates where they distributed koozies that read “Opt Out,” as well as pizza. Bros love pizza. Same with impromptu dance parties and cornhole, which were also part of the deal. Celebrate yourselves, enjoy free things from billionaires who profit off of inefficient healthcare delivery, beat the system by not contributing and living on the edge.

That's how you play to a bro. You cannot present him with images of other bros professing to be "bros for life" and expect him to relate. If anything the bro will become defensive. He will question the authenticity of these bros and, from a place of insecurity or idealism, dispute the veracity of their broness. These bros must prove themselves to him; earn their titles. The bro is all too aware of his stereotype. He can be coaxed and coerced, but not if he feels pandered to. The bro can be gamed, but only if he feels that he is the one doing the gaming. ("Free pizza; I win.")

The point that this Colorado campaign intends to make is that even if these young men might have been better off in the old health insurance market than the exchanges, insurance is still a good idea. Unfortunately, stylistically, like so many young and pseudobros, it's just condescending and reeks of inauthenticity.

I mean,

So the battle for bro allegiance rages on.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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