Uncovering Cover Oregon
Earlier today wardsmith was asking what I was going to have to say about the Cover Oregon website fiasco. This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now, and I’m not sure I’ve come up with an adequate thing to say. There are two reasons for this:
- Sometimes cluster**ks are so total — so jaw-droopingly astounding in their magnitude — that you’re left speechless.
- In terms of mocking satire, John Oliver seems to have gotten in the first and last word on the subject.
Still, on the off chance that what Oliver referred to as Oregon’s “sh**ty, sh**ty website” is the kind of local news that didn’t make it to your part of the world, the very least I can do is a story recap. Any future large government projects, undertaken by any government in the entire world, would be wise to send a request to my home state to make a list of everything we did in the creation and promotion of Cover Oregon, and then do the exact opposite.
Here’s what happened:
When the time came to set up online exchanges for the ACA, Oregon’s governor (an ex-emergency room surgeon) decided that he would spare no expense to make Oregon’s the finest exchange in the land. At the time, local Republicans wondered aloud why we would invest money in something that the feds were going to give us for free anyway, but Oregon Dems got caught caught up in the belief that if we came together and just went for it, we could come up with a website interface that would be unlike anything any other state had done — something that the rest of the country would talk about for years to come. This turned out to be sort of like when someone in a Saved By the Bell episode says, “Well, at least it can’t possible get any worse!” or “What could possibly go wrong?”
Oregon hired Oracle to create the site, and after that exactly what happened gets a little murky. All we citizens really know for certain is that the website never worked and had to be scrapped. Some highlights that would be hilarious to me if this happened in, say, Florida, New Hampshire, or any other state other than the one in which I reside:
- Oregon apparently never specified in its contract with Oracle what the website had to do, which might make suing Oracle for damages difficult or even impossible.
- Because of that contract snafu, Oracle is falling back on its enormous brass balls to make the excuse that no one ever said the website had to actually work. How could they have known that actually working was a desired deliverable?
- For months, even when it was obvious that the site wasn’t working, the state kept insisting it worked just fine, provided that you used part of it, filled out massive federal forms and mailed them in, hoped that everything detailed together somewhere down the pipe, and then went over and signed up on the federal site. Simple!
The state also hired
Portlandia’s writing team local ad agency North to think up with an ad campaign that would ensure people would know about the website. One such ad that HBO has turned famous is this one:
And how much did the state pay North to come up with these ideas and shoot these ads? A cool $21 million. In what I can only assume was an effort to be hip, North made sure that all the Cover Oregon ads had a single commonality: they didn’t mention health insurance and didn’t talk about what Cover Oregon did. Most didn’t even show or say the Cover Oregon web address. If you didn’t already know what Cover Oregon was, you would have no idea what the ads were about.
I want to say that one more time to let it sink in: Cover Oregon’s $21 million ad campaign to teach Oregonians about Cover Oregon worked on the assumption that if you weren’t hip enough to already know what Cover Oregon was they weren’t going to tell you.
All in all the state spent — I swear I am not making this up — a quarter of a billion dollars on Cover Oregon, a scrapped website that never signed up a single user.
Last week John Oliver poked fun of Cover Oregon, North’s ad campaign, and basically the entire state with this NSFW segment:
Responding to Oliver this week, North has revealed that it is as skilled at PR as it is advertising. Rather than say something self-aware and self-depricating, just laughing along, or keeping their mouths shut and their heads down, they actually issued a cloyingly earnest press release that said, basically, that if loving their fellow man was a crime then they were pleading guilty:
Given the world today, you have to be a stupid fucking idiot to want to help activate a legislation so controversial. You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to suggest a strategy that unites people around a common good before selling them on something as complicated as health insurance. You have to be a stupid fucking idiot to think advertising can actually help improve the quality of people’s lives.
But at North, we welcome stupid fucking idiots. And I’d do it all again just the same, proudly.
And no, I wasn’t the one who bolded this bit: “Advertising can actually help improve the quality of people’s lives.” Seriously, is there any way that can be said non-ironically that doesn’t make an ad agency exec look like a pretentious asshole?
In conclusion, I’d like to make this pitch to the State of Oregon:
The next time you have a need hire a website that doesn’t sign Oregonians up for healthcare, allow me to humbly recommend Ordinary Times.
We have a proven track record not signing up Oregonians for healthcare that goes back years, and Erik, Mark, Jason and myself — as well as all our contributors — are committed to never signing a single Oregonian up for healthcare in the future. For us, doing things that aren’t signing up people for healthcare is more than a just a job — it’s our passion. And we’ll do it for less than half the price you paid this time: $100 million.
Call us today! At these price, you can’t afford to not have us not sign up people for you.