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This number explains why Obama made 'selfie stick' video

Conservatives have slammed President Obama for filming a video with BuzzFeed. However, the video's popularity may suggest that this kind of alternative will soon play a major role in political messaging. 

Why did President Obama agree to make that “selfie stick” video? Maybe you’ve seen it – the one he did with BuzzFeed titled, “Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About.” In it, the chief executive of the Western world plays air basketball, tries on sunglasses, winks at himself in a dirty mirror, and yes, uses a selfie stick to hold out his phone and take a series of mugging self-portraits.

Plus, when his cookie is too big to fit into his glass of milk, he looks disgusted. “Thanks, Obama,” he says on the video.

The point of this is to sell the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” As we wrote Thursday, this year’s sign-up for the ACA closes on Feb. 15. Mr. Obama is trying to use unconventional marketing to reach the key demographic of young, generally healthy, potential enrollees.

The ACA needs the premiums of these folks to help balance out the expense of covering older, less healthy participants.

But the video’s controversial. Conservatives say it’s demeaning to the presidency, or inappropriate. They’re focusing on the fact that the video appears to have been shot on Tuesday, the same day the White House was dealing with the death of Islamic State hostage Kayla Mueller.

Right-leaning pundit Charles Krauthammer says when he first saw the video, he thought it was amusing. But he changed his mind after he learned it was filmed after Obama learned that Ms. Mueller had perished at the hands of the Islamic State.

“That makes it truly distasteful,” Mr. Krauthammer said in a Fox News appearance.

Greta Van Susteren echoed this on her own Fox show.

“It’s so tone-deaf and bad taste,” she said.

Obama’s defenders note that it’s possible for him to handle more than one subject per day. If terrible news precluded a president from doing anything else for a period of time, the Oval Office would see lots of inactivity.

Obama did issue a statement on Tuesday after Mueller’s death was confirmed.

Still, why would the White House bother with the BuzzFeed taping? The right has long complained about what it sees as Obama’s undignified forays into alternative media, such as his interview with YouTube comedian GloZell. The controversy over the selfie-stick video was practically preordained.

We’ll tell you why: 23 million. That’s the number of Facebook views the video had received as of midday Friday.

That’s a lot. It’s more than two days of the total viewership for "NBC Nightly News," to use a Brian Williams-related example. It’s a number equal to more than 7 percent of the entire US population – all in a format over which the White House had some measure of control.

Even people who follow the ad industry were impressed by the video’s popularity.

“Not bad,” wrote Adweek’s Michelle Castillo.

The hit status of “selfie stick” may indicate the future direction of political messaging, notes CNBC on Friday. Digital-only outlets are covering politics more at a time when a fast-rising number of young Americans are getting news only from social media sites. These trends are combining to make the old press release/press briefing model of media management seem creaky, if not obsolete.

The video “marks a sea change in the way political campaigns are being run,” writes CNBC’s Catherine Boyle.

Sheer numbers don’t equal acceptance of the message, of course. Lots of comments under the BuzzFeed video were critical. The true test of effectiveness will be ACA sign-up numbers.

But skill at social media may now be an important way for politicians to make themselves seem more human, in the way that kissing babies and other tools of personal campaigning have in the past.

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