Want to reach the younger generation? Why not try The Onion
I had to do a double-take when I saw a headline today announcing that Illinois' state health insurance exchange is turning to famous satirical newspaper The Onion for help in reaching the younger demographic. According to a press release, Get Covered Illinois has formed a "strategic partnership" with The Onion to run ads on the publication's website targeted at young people who otherwise are unlikely to buy health insurance. Yes, really. (The ads, however, can only be seen if you are accessing the website in Illinois.)
But wait, it gets even better: As the release notes, "the partnership calls for The Onion to run banner ads on its website featuring a man who is forced to sell his action figures to pay his medical bills because he failed to get health coverage." Indeed, having health insurance in the event that you get sick is way better than selling your action figures. Clearly they know their audience.
And, of course, that's the point--this kind of thinking might sound odd, but it is probably just as off-base to think that young people are going to respond to the same advertising that is designed to reach a much older demographic. Getting those young, healthy people to sign up for insurance is critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and so the people at Get Covered Illinois are taking a chance on a totally different approach. In other words, they are trying to reach people where they are. And using The Onion as a partner is an idea so out there, it just might work.
Of course we won't know for a few months whether it is a success, but this type of approach might be something the Catholic Church can learn from. I'm not necessarily suggesting the church try to work out a deal with The Onion, but if they want to reach young people who aren't in the pews, they need to find them where they are and present a message that will get their attention. How many young people who wouldn't set foot in a church do you think have gotten their first taste of Catholicism from The Colbert Report?
The same young adult group that needs to buy health insurance so they don't have to sell their action figures is noticeably absent from most Catholic parishes these days. But much like the Affordable Care Act, the future of the church depends on finding a way to reach that audience with a message they can relate to.