July 18, 2018
The Secret To Effective Healthcare Ads - Unexpected Emotion
By Alyssa Rodia

The Secret To Effective Healthcare Ads - Unexpected Emotion

Most of us spend our lives trying to avoid disease. Not surprisingly, we do the same with ads about disease.

The somber warnings from doctors and dramatizations of worst-case scenarios aren’t fun to contemplate. If you’re in an upbeat mood, they can make you a tad more depressed. If you’re already in a downbeat mood, then the problem is that you’ve heard this message before.

A few years ago, Memorial Sloan Kettering, the New York-based cancer hospital, realized that this aversion to healthcare advertising was a problem. Its solution? A defiant attitude. In 2009, the hospital ran ads in which patients wrote letters to their cancers. “Cancer, You said I’d never bear children,” read one. “My daughter says you’re wrong.”

Ads like that, which evoke unexpected emotion, might be the cure for the healthcare industry’s tune-out problem. 

Ads can draw from the palette of emotions

Healthcare is not alone in being locked into a single expected emotion. For a long time, insurers had one emotion to work with — fear. State Farm promised to be there “like a good neighbor.” Allstate likened itself to a rock that would be unwavering in a crisis. 

That changed in 1999 when GEICO introduced its gecko mascot and began experimenting instead with zany humor. GEICO realized that insurance was a “burden” category and its best approach was to lighten that burden. What’s notable about the ads is that although they make you laugh, they still manage to get in a pitch that “15 minutes saves 15 percent.”

While funny insurance ads are now the norm, the ads worked at first because they were unexpected. Research into emotions shows that unexpected stimuli enhances whatever mood we’re feeling. Unexpected events also help learning and, of course, make marketing messages more memorable. That’s why the marketing mantra is “surprise and delight.” 

Bringing surprise to a tricky category

Of course, healthcare is an unusual category because what you’re often selling is hope. That can be hope of overcoming a potentially fatal disease or just living a normal life. But if the goal is to get the consumer’s attention, then marketers in the category should consider deviating from the standard emotions of fear and dread that they think will grab the consumer’s attention. 

This heart attack prevention ad from The American Heart Association offers one such solution. The ad features comic actress Elizabeth Banks and keeps the viewer off balance because it is both funny and shocking. The humor in this case comes from Banks’ insistence that she’s fine even though she clearly isn’t and a dash of slapstick humor. Are we supposed to laugh? It’s not clear, but we stay tuned to see how it will end up.

With more than 4 million views, the ad appears to have done its job. Yet so many others are forgettable. 

Considering what’s at stake, that’s not just a missed opportunity. It’s a tragedy.

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