The #StopObamacare Movement Should Rethink Its Ad Strategy

With just over two weeks until the Affordable Healthcare Act takes effect, the anti-Obamacare movement is realizing it's time to bring out the big guns. How big? As big as a billboard in the middle of Times Square.

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With just over two weeks until Obamacare's state insurance exchanges open, the anti-Obamacare movement is bringing out the big guns to discourage people from signing up. How big? As big as a billboard in the middle of Times Square. Yesterday the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, tweeted out a mock-up of its last ditch effort to save America from the dangers of universal healthcare:

While the ad grabs your attention, it's hard to know who its targets are. The heavily-Democratic residents of New York? Or the tourists who visit the city? Of course, the Heritage Foundation has been pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into encouraging Congress to defunding Obamacare, publicly shaming any Republican who isn't on board. Last month the foundation announced a $550,000 "Defund Obamacare" online ad campaign, aimed at the 100 Republican controlled districts across the country whose representatives have not signed Sen. Mark Meadowes' defund Obamacare letter.

Not that the Heritage Foundation's the only group fighting the good fight. Tea Party groups have launched their own combination of TV and radio ads to attack Republicans who aren't committed enough to defunding Obamacare. The Senate Conservatives Fund shelled out $340,000 to air the following ad in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky:

Though McConnell voted against Obamacare, the ad frames his refusal to "join the fight" as a failure to lead. "If there was ever a time when Kentucky needed Mitch McConnell to deliver, it is now. We hope he listens to the voters and finds the courage to lead," said the group's executive director Matt Hoskins. McConnell is up for reelection in 2014 and has a Republican challenger.

Of course, different mediums work for different demographics. You're not going to get to the youth with a TV ad campaign. You need something clever, something viral. FreedomWorks youth-targeted "burn you Obamacare draft card" campaign (GIF at right), which launched early July with an op-ed in The Washington Times, is proof that the #StopObamacare movement is capable of creative marketing. The validity of comparing the Vietnam War draft to the Affordable Healthcare Act is questionable at best, but it got people talking.

"FreedomWorks is taking a treasured image of the anti-war left, the high-water mark of American progressive political action, and seeking to make it the right's own," wrote David A. Graham at The Atlantic. "These people are utterly bankrupt. Intellectually, and morally. But they are good for a laugh," Joan McCarter wrote on the liberal Daily Kos. In an op-ed for Politico, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe summed up the reaction with "I think we struck a nerve."

But as the Heritage Foundation prepares to darken Times Square with their expensive billboard before October 1 hits, it doesn't seem like striking a nerve is enough. Conservatives are attacking Republicans leaders like McConnell and are struggling to garner enough support among Republicans to pass a bill to force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare. It might be more productive to launch an ad-campaign targeting the Republicans to get them to stop fighting each other.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.