Humor's Role in Healthcare Marketing

Anna Webster, May 18, 2011

Can humor be used to address serious healthcare problems? Many ads and marketing campaigns for healthcare services tend to take the safe (and more serious) route when discussing the quality or reliability of an organization. But some healthcare marketers are walking the line between funny "haha" and the type of funny that raises eyebrows. 

Mixing healthcare and humor can be a risk – is it one that pays off?

HealthLeaders recently featured a campaign spotlight centering on a marketing campaign from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. The BCBSNC website, features goats dressed in shirts with the tag line, "let's stop looking for scapegoats" in reference to escalating healthcare costs.

"If we're going to make a difference and address out-of-control costs, we have to start somewhere. The campaign we've launched featuring the scapegoats was a way for us to do that," said Kathy Higgins, VP of Corporate Affairs for BCBSNC, in response to a blog critique of the website.

My question: is Blue Cross making light of the situation of rising medical costs? The point of the website is that everyone (consumers, doctors, hospitals, and insurers) can be seen as a scapegoat – we are all in the same boat and thus no one should be offended. This type of satire works well on shows like Family Guy but in healthcare, it's less common and may ruffle a few feathers.

Using farm animals could be taking the point past humor and toward mockery.

BCBSNC doesn't see it that way. "We used goats to emphasize that no one group is to blame, but to make it clear that everyone, including us, has a role to play," added Higgins. "The humor in these ads helps us make our point and address the complexity of the issue, but we are serious about the need to control medical costs."

I applaud BCBSNC for starting the conversation and looking for solutions to an escalating problem. The payoff for Blue Cross may be measured in audience participation on the website. Site visitors may post questions and receive answers from other patients or members or BCBSNC employees. But as far as a monetary payoff goes, BCBSNC has not disclosed how much was spent on the campaign, so ROI remains unknown.

Anna Webster Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Anna Webster, Online Content Coordinator for HealthLeaders Media, can be reached at awebster@hcpro.com.
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