Cancer marketing built on data-driven facts without exaggeration and the use of words such as highest, lowest, first, best (anything that can’t be backed up) is the only way to build a campaign with integrity and transparency.
Typically, community hospitals’ cancer ads sell hope to the public from anecdotal data that would not be statistically valid.
Marketers should use their analytical skills to identify statistically valid facts that provide differentiation between your hospital and its competitors. Creative departments should attempt to conceive ads which are emotionally powerful but checked for accuracy and facts to support claims.
Cancer marketing built on data-driven facts without exaggeration and the use of words such as highest, lowest, first, best that can’t be backed up is the only way to build a campaign with integrity and transparency.
Cancer strikes fear in us all. Today one in every four Americans is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer service lines tend to focus on fear-based emotional marketing to persuade patients into believing its hospital is the miracle cure for cancer. Our job as healthcare marketers is to sell our hospital’s cancer center with integrity and transparency.
In a recent New York Times article, Natasha Singer provides examples how technology, testimonial and cancer research advertisements have not used facts to support their emotional claims.
The two following cancer center ads show how far the cancer message has been pushed to be compelling and remembered:
1. It seems like a miracle
“Cancer, you said I’d never bear children,” reads the handwritten letter, held out by Michelle, a healthy-looking woman, as a toddler peeks from behind the paper. “My daughter says you’re wrong,” print ad from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Facts – Special case of early-stage cervical cancer
- Other hospitals in New Jersey could offer her only a hysterectomy.
- Eligible for a novel operation (less invasive surgery) that is now standard treatment at the center.
- Needed fertility treatments to conceive.
- One of the few patients who did not need radiation — which can cause fertility problems.
- Became pregnant.
Ellen Miller-Sonet, vice president for marketing at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, said “Consumers seeing the ads realize that these were individual stories. They know that no two people are the same.”
I question this statement. We all want to believe that when our family member or ourselves fall victims to cancer that these heroic case studies will happen for us too. Advertisers attempt to provoke an emotional reaction in their messaging, but they cannot control how a patient or patient’s family actually reacts.
2. Life without cancer
“We gave Nick something he couldn’t find anywhere else in the Northeast. Life without cancer.” Quoted by a pediatric patient with brain cancer’s mom at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.
Facts – Use of radiology proton beam therapy machine
- True – Only hospital in the Northeast with this treatment option.
- Quoted by Dr. Birkmeyer of Michigan: “No studies have shown that proton beam therapy has higher brain cancer cure rates than other treatment methods.”
- If the maker of a radiology machine had run this same ad “promising “life without cancer,” the FDA would require them to support the claims.
We all can find cancer patients like Nick and Michelle who have experienced a positive outcome. Natasha cited in her article, “Cancer experts interviewed for this article say there are no comprehensive statistics showing that any one elite medical center has better overall cancer success rates than its competitors.”
We all have fallen victim to promoting the latest technologies, promised unique care or recounted miraculous patient recoveries without the use of data to back up the claims.
In my marketing experience, it felt good knowing the stories and claims could provide hope to patients and their families when a diagnosis seemed so bleak. But I would hate for the families to feel they are to blame if a loved one’s treatment doesn’t succeed like I gave claim to. We should provideÂ meaningful and actionable information that allows them to make informed decisions about their health.
Do you feel these campaigns use superiority claims or are based on survivor success stories without medical statistics to back their claims? Do you think they could bring false hope to patients?
- Abington Memorial Hospital Commercial
- TV Commercial from Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center
- “Making Cancer History” promotional site from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
Read the entire article: Cancer Center Ads Use Emotion More Than Fact.