Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hospital Advertising Doesn't Work

An article in the July 29 issue of Crain’s HealthPulse, aptly titled “It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World for Local Hospitals” references a report that says that hospital advertising expenditures in the New York area have increased by over $10 million, or 28%. The article’s title, a play on the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is apt, in that hospitals spending this kind of money for advertising makes about as much sense as the madcap chase across the California desert that was launched in the movie after Jimmy Durante “kicked the bucket.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, let me simplify my premise: New York-area Hospitals are flushing more money (over $10 million more) down more toilets (by running costly and ultimately ineffective ads) than they did last year (when they flushed almost $70 million down their collective commodes).

Simply put, advertising to attempt to build hospital business or to enhance a hospital’s reputation is almost entirely a fool’s errand. Why? Because, frankly, hospital advertising doesn’t work (go ahead and try to find bona fide research – not some overblown “case study” puffery that ad agencies love to put on their websites – that shows otherwise).

99.9% of the time, hospitals use ads to merely “push” information at their intended audience – an audience that long ago turned its back on this type of one-sided communication, and which fails to find any personal relevance in your newest state-of-the-art thing-a-ma-bob. As a result, traditional hospital advertising doesn’t engage the intended audience. Almost always, these ads are done to pacify doctors who insist that the hospital run ads (after all, 4 years of medical school, various internships and hospital residency certainly qualifies you as a marketing expert!) that showcase their undeniable talents. This approach is akin to going to a cocktail party, and beginning a conversation with “Hey, let’s talk about ME!”

Against the backdrop of already-thin hospital margins being squeezed tighter and tighter, it is astounding that hospitals continue to waste money at these levels.

The rules of marketing and advertising changed a few years ago, yet apparently nobody told the hospital community. Today, merely touting your “state-of-the-art facility,” your “world-renowned specialists,” your “latest technology” – regardless of how “unique,” “innovative” or “leading-edge” it may be – will earn your ad nothing more than a yawn and a quick trip to the recycling bin. The key to successful hospital promotion is to achieve true engagement – connecting with your customers, fostering two-way communication, and delivering value to them as a result of their engagement with your brand. And this can be done successfully for a fraction of what hospitals now spend for advertising space.

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