Yep, says Megan McArdle. A little, says me.
Pajama Boy is not a good ad. Whatever you think about progressives, they are in most ways perfectly normal people. Normal people do not, at the age of 26 or so, want to spend their holiday in footy pajamas, listening to their parents harangue them about fiscal responsibility. Good ads usually do one of three things: they make you want to be more like the person in the ad; they make you want to date the person in the ad; or they engage you and the maker of the ad as knowing co-conspirators in laughing at that terrible person in the ad, whom you are not at all like in any way.
Who is going to look at this ad and aspire to be more like Pajama Boy? Or to date a man more like Pajama Boy . . . you know, the kind of guy you can bring home to Mom to talk about buying health insurance?…
So, why was this ad made? Well, Pajama Boy doesn’t seem well designed to get people to sign up for health insurance. But it seems tailor-made to get conservatives talking about Pajama Boy. And naturally, once they did, liberals jumped in to defend what is, objectively, a pretty stupid advertisement. Suddenly, lots of people love Pajama Boy — the sort of people who give money to OFA and retweet their ads for Obamacare.
She’s assuming that OFA deliberately went maximum dork on Pajama Boy to bait righties, but that’s the great unsolved mystery of this episode. Did they? How often does a political shop stoop to mocking its own side by embracing its opponents’ stereotypes about it in the name of igniting a flame war online? Have you ever seen FreedomWorks, say, run an ad with a guy in a Gadsden flag hat holding a gun and wearing a t-shirt that says “Love It or Leave It”? No, and there’s a reason for that — it’s too easy for a strategy like that to backfire. Just look at what these poor bastards have been reduced to in the name of defending this. Someone at MSNBC actually argued today that Pajama Boy, who’s so white that it’s dangerous to your eyes to look directly at him, is allegedly an “emblem of an increasingly non-white electorate” to conservatives. Is this helping OFA sell insurance? If you were a normal, relatively apolitical twentysomething thinking of enrolling in O-Care and watching this episode play out online, which side would you would feel more at home with? Conservatives? Or people who think it’s racist and “heteronormative” or whatever to tease a 30-year-old man for wearing a onesie? Let’s face it: If you’re leaning towards the latter group, you already signed up for ObamaCare. On the first day.
Beyond that, I’m still not sure that OFA looked at this and saw something obviously mockworthy:
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 17, 2013
To you and me it’s obvious, but remember, they featured this same guy in other ads where he dressed and acted perfectly normally. He played the son in OFA’s Thanksgiving video about ObamaCare; it was the parents in that case who were the comic relief, not him. He’s been featured in other Twitter images by OFA wearing nothing cornier than a Christmas sweater. It seems unlikely, after all that, that the OFA brain trust would have looked at him and realized “You know what? If we put you in a onesie and gave you a cup of cocoa, you’d be the Platonic form of the right’s stereotype of infantilized urban lefty hipster douches.” I think the thought process was more like this: “We need an ad about talking about insurance at Christmas. Let’s make it cute and homey, with jammies and cocoa. Take our star and dress him in something that’s really obviously pajamas so everyone gets it right away.” And then the creative director, himself an urban lefty hipster/hipster-sympathizer, looked at the shot and thought, “Yeah, cool.” No irony intended. My hunch is that, if they really wanted people mocking him, they would have been careful to show that he was indeed wearing footies. That’s how ad people think — you only get one chance, so don’t be too subtle or else the viewer might miss your point. They didn’t show the footies, though, did they? Why? Because they meant this unironically. Dude, Pajama Boy is on the level.