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Gasps and Giggles: When It’s Okay to Break from Traditional Healthcare Advertising

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 7, 2010

There seems to be a universal formula for hospital TV ads: a reassuring voice speaking over sappy music while static stock-photo images of faux doctors and patients flash across the screen. Radio, print, and outdoor spots are cut from the same cloth. But when hospitals lighten up, the resulting advertisements are often more memorable and water cooler-worthy than their stuffy counterparts.

Of course, not all hospital ads can be lighthearted—there's a fine line between humor and bad taste. But there are some service lines—even sensitive ones—that, if handled carefully, can be advertised in an engaging, playful way.

Charleston (WV) Area Medical Center (CAMC) took a fun approach to marketing its fertility program, which I covered in the March issue of Healthcare Marketing Advisor. The ad promoting its male infertility solutions sports the tagline "strong swimmers" and features a baby wearing blue swimming goggles. The ad promoting its female infertility solutions uses "a good egg" as a tagline and features a baby crawling out of an eggshell.

The four-hospital health system didn't craft the jocular messaging haphazardly—it conducted focus groups to ensure the campaign would be well-received. The groups helped them nix ideas that may have been too facetious—such as an ad featuring an unmade bed with copy reading "Who needs Barry White?"

"A few of our concepts were lighthearted in tone, and these were the ones that the CAMC team liked best," says Skip Lineberg, chief creative office and partner at Maple Creative, the Charleston, WV, agency that worked on the campaign. "As we moved into the refinement stage of campaign development, working on the final two campaign concepts, we all agreed that it would be effective to bring a little levity to an otherwise daunting [and] potentially depressing subject matter."

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