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Humor in Hospital Advertising: Risky, Rewarding or Both?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
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How Bob Found Out...

[Hospital Advertising Success Story: Part Two] Texas Health Resources has been successfully using humor in their hospital advertising. The first part of this article [available here] looked at why humor in advertising is both difficult and dangerous. In this concluding part, we find that it can also be rewarding…but only when it’s done right.

Many health issues are simply no laughing matter. And the decision to use a humorous touch to make people aware of health services wasn’t a quick decision, according to Texas Health Resources Director of Marketing Deena McAllister.

“We worked into the humor slowly,” Deena said. “Using humor for the sake of humor wasn’t our primary objective. We wanted to steer clear of heavy-handed or slapstick humor. Instead, we wanted creative work that was clever and smart with some humorous notes. We are a sophisticated health care organization and we don’t want to diminish our core mission of improving the health of the community.”

A slow approach can reveal shortcomings. Deena reports that “the distinction between clever and a tad edgy can be a fine line.”  For example, early iterations of some materials did not come across as well as intended.  It turns out that some print and digital ads for breast care services resonated well with the younger target demographic, but was not well received by mature female consumers.

Here’s another example, a television commercial about hospital services including a heart health assessment, titled: How Bob Found Out He's at Risk for Heart Disease [:32]

So tell me, how did all that work for you?

The decision to use an amusing approach for serious subjects was well received by most people, but there were some objections. “We are a fairly conservative organization, and there were many internal conversations about why we felt it was a good decision to develop the brand in this way,” Deena told us.

“We occasionally receive comments from consumers who felt that we are making light of a serious topic. Overall, however, those were in the minority. The work is memorable, which is a goal of advertising, and received far more kudos than complaints.

“But we’ve also learned that not all product lines lend themselves to the use of humor easily. Breast care services and cancer services are two examples of topics that are difficult to incorporate humor. In those cases, we try to maintain our approachable, relatable personality but scale back the use of humor.”

Quantifiable results are the best gauge of acceptance and success. By all measures, the branding efforts have exceeded expectations by moving name awareness in the market from six percent to 76 percent over a two-year period.

“The work was designed primarily to increase brand awareness,” Deena told us, “but we have also made inroads with specific service lines. For instance, we developed a campaign encouraging consumers to go online and complete a heart risk assessment. Our goal was to get 1,500 completed assessments. Since February of 2012, we have had more than 20,000 completed assessments. We can track that particular effort to overall increases in net revenue. Within the heart and vascular product line the return has been strong.”

Can you use humor to advertise your hospital?

The fact remains that humor in adverting is complicated, problematic and just not right for everyone. But, when it’s done properly, a light creative approach can be highly memorable and effective.

If you missed the first part of this article, Can We Use Humor to Advertise Our Hospital? Don't Make Me Laugh, you’ll find it here.

Lonnie Hirsch

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