High Stakes

Xs and Os: A Post-Super-Bowl Ad Analysis for Healthcare Marketers

On Sunday, more than 130 million viewers gathered around their televisions to enjoy Super Bowl LI. And before the game finally became a bit more interesting in the second half, many viewers were probably equally invested in watching what are traditionally masterful ads.

As strategic communication consultants, we’re nerds for this sort of thing. As we watched, we analyzed the messages and tactics the advertisers employed and how those could relate to our healthcare provider clients. From the ads, which we’ll say were a hit-and-miss bunch this year, we gleaned the following wisdom.

You do you

Advertisers and the Fox network were left scrambling when unexpected events turned what may have been well-intended and uplifting messages into political hot potatoes. Ads that had been in the can for months had to be reevaluated, revised and even scrapped at the last minute.

This can happen to anyone.

Although healthcare ads are seldom meant to be controversial, it can happen. Picture an ad on your cancer program airing during a newscast that features the death of a celebrity following a battle with cancer. Or a high energy spot about your trauma center running just after a shooting at nearby university. The timing could be perceived as (at the very least) in poor taste or (at worst) ambulance chasing.

What should you do?

Be who you are. If you feel it’s inappropriate to run those ads, move to temporarily remove them. If it’s a long-standing campaign familiar to the community, that might not be necessary. If your mission compels you to take a stand, do it. Know who you are and be who your community expects you to be.

The Messenger is the Message

The spokesperson delivering your message can be just as important as whatever point you’re trying make.

In my favorite ad of the night, Bai drinks rolled out the immutable Christopher Walken alongside Justin Timberlake to engage a wide swath of demographics – some of whom didn’t recognize the words to “Bye, Bye, Bye,” but ultimately didn’t need to. Turkish Airlines chose Morgan Freeman to speak to older, more discerning travelers. Justin Bieber was the voice for T-Mobile, notoriously relentless in its pursuit of Millennials.

Similarly, for healthcare communicators, your message is often only as good as the one sharing it. If a clinical issue needs to be addressed, start from a place of trust by letting the audience hear the news from an expert in a white coat. If the issue is operational in nature, perhaps sending out the CEO or executive board member to show accountability is the right tact or having a nurse leader explain impending changes to the nursing staff’s day-to-day. As for communicating with patients, deploy the spokespersons many of them trust the most – other patients.

Don’t Try to Ride Iconic Coattails

Admit it. When you hear the whinny of a Clydesdale, your mind jumps to beer. After all, Clydesdales are to Budweiser what Snoopy is to MetLife. They are icons and forever associated with the respective brands.

But, the “Clydesdale” ad that aired (regionally) Sunday night following Lady Gaga’s halftime performance was pitching… Georgia-based Synovus Bank? The ad itself was nice, albeit a little bewildering. I mean, could you imagine the Pillsbury Dough Boy popping up and giggling his way through an Audi commercial?

Sure, it was filmed on a Synovus Bank customer’s farm where he happens to raise Clydesdales. And yes, it was intended to show how the bank is there for its customers. But amid the din of a Super Bowl party, some viewers were no doubt left wondering if they were meant to hit an ATM or buy beer… maybe it was both.

Our advice: Don’t use things readily associated with others or you’re really advertising for them. If your competitor is known for something specific, don’t go there. You’ll just confuse people.

Solve for Frustration

In one of the first ads of the night, Ford Motor Company touched a very deep nerve in the current zeitgeist: frustration!

With more than a dozen micro scenes capturing a wide array of “D’oh!” moments – a skier stuck on a chairlift, a woman caught in the endless traffic of some faceless megalopolis, a young would-be Evel Knievel stuck, calling for his mom after rolling his big-wheel, and a heavy-set beachgoer trying to extricate himself from a too-tight wetsuit, among many others – the car company harnessed one of the more universal sentiments permeating our culture.

When the ad turns, its characters find a rhythm and their respective clouds part, it produced truly satisfied feelings in the viewer as the announcer gently massaged fun facts about Ford into their ears.

Regardless of where people fall on the political spectrum these days, feelings of deep frustration abound. Nowhere is this truer than in the healthcare industry, not only for consumers, but physicians, nurses and executives as well. For health systems approaching their strategic communications, messages that both acknowledge the frustration your audiences feel and provide a clear vision for easing those headaches will resonate.

No one likes to feel stuck. So, show them how your vision will help them get un-stuck.

It’s About Way More Than Just an Ad

If Super Bowl ad strategies teach healthcare marketers anything it’s that it’s about way more than the ad.

The King of Super Bowl ads and the self-proclaimed King of Beers has mastered a strategy of making their ad about much more than a single airing during the big game. Anheuser Busch unveiled their Born the Hard Way ad depicting Adolphus Busch’s journey from Hamburg, Germany to St. Louis, Missouri more than a week before Super Bowl Sunday. The strategy was tease the ad before the game and generate buzz before its official broadcast.

Health system marketers and communicators should take a page from the AB playbook. Before new ads and new ad campaigns launch to a consumer audience, health systems have the opportunity to create their own buzz by sharing the ads internally with leaders and employees.

Ads can also be shared through various social media channels and with influential foundation donors and community leaders. You might even consider creating longer form versions of your ad to continue the story and stoke further engagement.

Let’s face it, ads are a major investment. Health systems that replicate the Budweiser strategy can get more bang for their advertising buck.


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