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Will Your Budget or Stock Photos Fuel a Marketing Scandal?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

stock photo advertisement

[Columbus Monthly Magazine]

People don’t associate the All-American image of Columbus, Ohio, with marketing controversy. It’s just too wholesome for that sort of thing. Right?

Having completed my undergraduate studies at Ohio State University, I’m practically a native. The public impression of this heartland state capital includes visions of fresh corn-on-the-cob at the Ohio State Fair, or live oompah music and sausage at Schmidt’s eatery in the German Village.

Tuned-in marketing professionals know that Columbus is frequently a test market for the fast food and other industries. And it’s the home to Victoria’s Secret, Wendy’s Hamburgers, Battelle Memorial Institute and the Jack Nickolas Memorial Golf Tournament.

Of course there’s OSU’s championship football season that inspired an article about marketing lessons for doctors. Where’s the controversy in an iconic place like Columbus?

A healthcare advertising war…

While most of the nation was watching the OSU football team, WOSU (NPR News in Columbus) was reporting about Columbus-area health systems that were spending millions to attract patients. The WOSU story declared “there’s an advertising war underway in Columbus.”

Although WOSU’s report referred to it as a “hospital arms race,” hospital marketing is competitive in every major market, and similar marketing and advertising budgets are common. What this report also fails to observe is that every hospital is working to do more with less--in marketing and in their community service--and in creating a lean and effective budget.

Stock photo scandal…

Meanwhile, Columbus Monthly Magazine raised its editorial eyebrows at the use of stock photography in an ad by the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in an article headlined: Stock Photo Scandal: Who’s Really in Those Ads?

Although the use of stock photography in advertising is commonplace, there’s a cautionary message here for healthcare marketing professionals. “Take the wall-sized ad for the James cancer hospital that for years hung at Port Columbus International Airport,” Columbus Monthly reports. “[The] arresting bald, blue-eyed woman in the ad was a stock photo, not a patient at the James, though her portrait is featured alongside the sentence, ‘I have a team of experts who are focused on treating just one type of cancer—mine.’”

Their core issue appears to be the use of stock photography in conjunction with testimonial-style advertising text. And the caution for advertisers is to check with your legal counsel. While this report doesn’t seem to merit a label of “scandal,” the report is, at a minimum, unflattering media exposure.

The safer course—even in mild-mannered Columbus—would be for hospitals or medical practices to assure that creative materials satisfy overall legal and regulatory compliance, particularly when using patient images (stock or otherwise) and testimonials.

For additional reading, see: 7 Dangerous Legal Issues to Avoid in Doctor Advertising and Are Those Cute Baby Pictures in the Doctor’s Office Offending HIPAA?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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