Healthcare Marketers: Forget the “Fear Factor”

We’ve all heard the adage “if it bleeds it leads,” which, of course, refers to how violence and negative news often trump the positive ‘feel good’ stories for the coveted top breaking news spot.
But what may be true for journalism does not necessarily apply to marketing, especially in the healthcare industry where the emotions of patients’ (and their caregivers) often come into play.
According to Anna Webster in Gut Grabbing Messages: What Makes an Impression (, scare tactics just don’t work anymore when used in healthcare marketing. Patients today are highly educated and are more apt to tune out such extreme messages than take them seriously.
Webster spoke with healthcare marketing leaders to better gauge which marketing approach—positive and upbeat or serious and dramatic—had the best response rate. Using HealthCare Express, an urgent care and occupational medicine group practice, as a prime example, the latter seemed to work best.
HealthCare Express chose a more serious, emotionally driven advertising campaign during the peak of the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009, which ran at the same time the news media was covering the story. The ad featured a little boy scrunching up his face, visibly angry, with the tag line: No child should wait for an appointment to be seen.
The response to the ad was overwhelming. In November 2009, 13% of patients said they had heard of HealthCare Express from the print ad campaign.
And in December 2009, that percentage jumped to 18%.
When crafting an impactful message, healthcare marketers must walk a fine line between what is serious and emotional and what may be viewed as overly dramatic or too lighthearted. A person’s health is serious business and advertisers must remember to never downplay its importance when marketing to patients and their families.