Stephanie Burton

3 reasons to spotlight patients in your health system’s advertising campaign

By Stephanie Burton on August 7, 2013

I love my doctor. But, I’d never feature him in an advertising campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, my doctor is charismatic, personable, compassionate and really knows his stuff – all qualities any “good” physician should have. But, my care isn’t about my doctor. My care is about me. I think your patients will agree.

At the same time, I understand the pressure healthcare marketers face when developing consumer-facing advertising campaigns. Sometimes, you need to feed the ego of a service line’s medical director. Other times, you’re forced to feature physicians in ads because the C-suite is trying to keep up with the competing hospital. (“They’re featuring doctors in their ads. Our doctors are better! We must feature doctors in our ads, too!”)

The next time you consider featuring physicians as the subjects of your advertising campaign, I encourage you to consider these three reasons to feature patients instead.

  1. Physicians are features, not benefits. Theodore Levitt, an American economist, said it best: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” An advertising copywriter will agree: highlighting benefits (what you get) instead of features (what you offer) will almost always be the most successful approach to communicating. In healthcare, our quarter-inch drills are buildings, da Vinci® robots and yes, physicians. The quarter-inch hole is a patient who is restored back to his or her health or, at the very least, able to function better today than before he or she sought treatment.
  2. Patients don’t relate to doctors in the same way we relate to each other. Perception is reality. In many cases, people perceive doctors as golf-playing, country-club attending, Lamborghini-driving egomaniacs. I know this isn’t the case. You know this isn’t the case. But, as long as these stereotypes exist, our future patients will have a difficult time relating to someone who isn’t able to relate to us. 
  3. Patients offer valuable third-party endorsements. No matter how good we say we are, we always need someone else to affirm our claims. This is why employers check references after interviews. Think of your patients as valuable references. Leverage their stories to generate interest and create an emotional connection with an audience who shares the same worries, concerns and hopes.

I’m not suggesting doctors should never be placed in ads. Instead, I’m suggesting that hospitals and health systems should proceed with caution before a physician becomes the subject of an ad campaign.

We’ve seen it work many times. Need an example? Check out this campaign from The Valley Hospital’s Center for Childbirth. We still feature physicians, but they take a backseat to the mothers, fathers and babies who benefit from their services.


Stephanie Hungerford, APR, is a healthcare marketing strategist at Core Creative. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @shungerford.