Special: Will President Obama's Viral BuzzFeed Video Help Healthcare Sign-Ups?

Feb. 13, 2015 AT 9:15 p.m. EST

President Obama's BuzzFeed video "Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About" went viral this week -- racking up tens of millions of views. The White House effort to make give the president the "cool factor" was an effort to shore up sign-ups on healthcare.gov ahead of the Feb. 15 deadline. While Real Clear Politics' Alexis Simendinger describes the administration reaction as "pure delight," what is the practical impact of the video? Can millennials be persuaded? As Simendinger points out, there is a difference between engagement and persuasion. The New York Times' Peter Baker explains how this latest "not presidential in the traditional sense" video fits into the White House's new media strategy.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ANNOUNCER: This is the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
GWEN IFILL, "WASHINGTON WEEK" MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
I’m joined around the table by Peter Baker of "The New York Times", Manu Raju of "Politico", Alexis Simendinger of "Real Clear Politics", and John Harwood of CNBC.
We’re going to do something a little different tonight, invite you to add to the more than 20 million views the president that -- the president as you likely you’ve never seen him.
Roll the tape, Bob.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, BUZZFEED)
(MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks, Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: The president did this for BuzzFeed. Some say it’s genius. Others say it’s not very presidential.
I have to admit, I was baffled by it. I didn’t quite get the joke. Then, I realize it wasn’t meant for me. So, I ask my favorite millennials, 20-something staffers right here at WASHINGTON WEEK, in the news hour, what they thought.
Here’s some of their responses, from Ruth, "Bottom line: this worked. Young people are all about exaggerating our angst while making fun of it at the same time."
From Julia, "If by ‘did it work’, you mean ‘did it make you laugh?’ Then, yes. It was great to see the ‘regular guy’ behind the president. But I can’t say that it would necessarily make me suddenly go sign up for health insurance if I was in need of it."
From Ashira, "The video was also very GIF-able. I think that was one of its biggest successes. Obama psyching himself up in the mirror, aviators and all? That’s Internet gold."
And from Eric, "It worked for me. I definitely laughed out loud a few times. I appreciate when the president does things like that. To me, it means he’s really interested in what young people think and is looking for relevant ways to reach out to us."
One more from Rebecca, "I did laugh at the ‘thanks, Obama’ gag, especially to hear Obama say it. Personally, I would have loved to see Obama try to navigate the Web site instead."
So, old folks --
(LAUGHTER)
IFILL: What did you think about all of this? And did it work?
Let’s start with you, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC: You know, I think the president spent sometime with BuzzFeed this week, and interview with Ben Smith, their editor-in-chief, in doing this video, I think the video was the tail that wagged the dog here. This is what the White House was looking for, to try to get viral exposure.
What marginal benefit they get for healthcare.gov? I don’t know. But the president does get little cool factor from young people, as your colleagues made clear.
IFILL: Currently.
HARWOOD: That’s right.
So, I think that was the point and that’s its reward.
IFILL: Alexis?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: The -- I know the administration was just pure delight and they’re thinking -- although, you know, I missed it first because I didn’t get to the end at first. At first, I was like, what? What? He looks like he’s standing in the bathroom john. But when I got to the end, I realized, OK, this was the deal they struck, that he was talking into the mirror about the Affordable Care Act, which they had tried --
IFILL: We didn’t show the end just now, but yes.
SIMENDINGER: When you get to the end, you get the deal, what the trade was, why, you know, that he was willing to do it. And their attitude was, in the first few hours, it went viral and, you know, on all sorts of social media. And for them, to get a message that we’ve talked about this before, engagement and then persuasion, right? So, the idea that it got to that first level with young people who don’t watch TV or don’t listen to his speeches or whatever, and to them, they -- you know, before the deadline of February 15th, sign up. They were delighted.
My attitude was, OK. OK, I missed it and it was supposed to me, until I got to the end, right?
IFILL: If I understood it, they were doing something wrong.
SIMENDINGER: Yes.
IFILL: Manu?
MANU RAJU, POLITICO: Yes, I think it just shows the creative and selective ways that the president chooses to engage with which -- with particular media outlets, and this -- a fragmented media landscape. I mean, when was the last time he did a "New York Times" interview, or "Washington Post" interview. I mean, right --
(LAUGHTER)
IFILL: He’s not bitter.
RAJU: But how many does -- he done the -- you know, with Ryan Seacrest --
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: You mean, it’s funnier. That’s --
RAJU: "Between Two Ferns" -- exactly. So, this just shows how they’ve handled the media. This was clearly part of their overall media strategy now.
BAKER: Yes. I think sometimes, I’d say, was it presidential? Ah, maybe not in a traditional sense.
IFILL: I think Rand Paul has already put up a tweet tonight with a picture of troops on the ground next to the president with the aviators, and said, you know, Mr. President --
BAKER: You could easily do it. That’s fair enough.
IFILL: You could see that coming.
BAKER: Did it work? I actually thought it was pretty funny and I don’t often the new media things they’re doing are necessarily -- I didn’t get the "Two Ferns" thing. I still don’t get the "Two Ferns" thing. But I thought this was funny. I think he looked human. He looked funny. He looked relaxed, for a guy who’s heading in to a lame duck session, or lame duck period of his presidency. He looked, you know, pretty confident. It obviously sells a serious message too.
(CROSSTALK)
SIMENDINGER: Yes.
IFILL: This is the "what heck part?" of the Obama presidency.
SIMENDINGER: Well, he actually --
BAKER: Bill Clinton rode around on a bicycle --
IFILL: That’s right.
BAKER: -- through the West Wing as a video for the White House Correspondents Association.
IFILL: That’s true. Yes.
BAKER: And runs out of the West Wing holding a paper and lunch bag trying to run after Hillary Clinton as she is heading off to run for Senate, saying, "You forgot your lunch."
Presidents --
IFILL: And it wasn’t about anything. It wasn’t about getting signups for health care.
BAKER: No.
IFILL: And it certainly didn’t get as viral.
So, whatever work, hey, whatever works, I’m not bitter, but if you want to give me that interview --
(LAUGHTER)
IFILL: -- I’m here.
Thank you, everybody. Be careful out there on the web, and don’t come near me with a selfie stick for heaven’s sakes.
We’ll see you next time on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.

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