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Create Really Bad Hospital Advertising in Eight Easy Lessons

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer
STOPLike the sound of fingernails scraping a chalkboard, bad hospital advertising drives us a little crazy. In our line of work, we see a lot of external hospital ads—in magazines, billboards and TV/video work. And frankly, much of it probably does a decent job—in fact, some of it is inspired.
But then there are the clunkers and the advertising sour apples. The "you've-got-to-be-kidding" stuff looks as professional and appealing as a coat of house paint on a classic '65 Mustang.
Bad advertising doesn't make for bad hospitals, but there are some quantifiable problems. Our quick list about the downside of bad advertising:
  • The creative and media cost is usually a waste limited resources;
  • There is no Return-on-Investment or a disconnect from measurable goals;
  • Off-course marketing messages diminish overall marketing effectiveness;
  • There's a failure to communicate or the message is mixed and confusing; and
  • Even well intended (but bad) ads do little or nothing to help the public.

8 ways to create bad hospital advertising

We will politely avoid identifying anyone, but here are several of the most common pitfalls, classic fumbles and root causes we often discover in bad hospital advertising:
  • Spotlight infection rates and re-admission scores. No doubt there's some degree of professional pride in attaining certain quality of care measurements, but "fewer septicemia infections," "fewer re-admissions," does not make for a great billboard. This one sometimes overlaps with our next category.
  • Multisyllabic medical terms are impressive. Notwithstanding that the patient-public is increasingly well informed, healthcare advertising needs to communicate without confusion. What's more, the public is far more interested in easily understood benefits and daily living solutions than in the medical science behind why they feel better.
  • Everyone eats alphabet soup. A corollary to the item above, shorthand, buzz words and abbreviations—EMR, HIR, HIPAA, ACO, ER, PPACA—can be barriers to understanding.
  • "We are pleased to announce…" your new building, technology or award. Information about concrete or equipment—without saying how these things benefit the lives of people—is a non-starter…and often boring.
  • Someone upstairs said we should do this ad. There are exceptions, but advertising is rarely a good platform for ideas that are disconnected from defined marketing goals, speak to internal matters, or tackle political issues.
  • Be over-the-top shot at being clever (or trendy, cheeky, witty or insider). The line between "creative" and "confusing" is a thin one. It's remarkably easy for ads to be seen as obscure, unclear or simply un-funny.
  • Proofreader? (We don't have one.) A spell-check program has its limitations. Over reliance will have you tracking calls to a Phoenician.
  • Let's just copy someone else's nice-looking ad. If there were no copyright or conscience issues, it's a bad idea. It may be "pretty," but you don't know its objective or goals, intended target audience, its role in a larger media plan or marketing strategy, how it performed…or any of a dozen other critical considerations. You're taking quite a chance on "nice."

We admit it's tough to get things right…

Studies say that at any given moment, as little as 25 percent of your hospital's marketing audience has a need for healthcare services. Everyone else…they don't care and/or aren't listening to what you have to say.
Admittedly it can be tough to identify, gain attention and inspire prospective patients today for something they may, or may not, need in the future. A do-it-yourself approach is not recommended.
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