At first I thought it was a joke. But no. As part of the re-branding effort of Gaston Memorial Hospital to CaroMont Regional Medical Center, they also launched an edgy new tag line:
The re-branding was done by local ad agency Immortology which did nothing to convince me that the announcement in early April wasn’t just a big April fool’s joke. In fact the announcement included employees unveiling “Cheat Death” t-shirts and signing a pledge to help local residents lead healthier lives.
The backlash from the campaign was severe and the campaign was taken down within a few days — ultimately leading to the dismissal of the CEO two weeks later.
Honestly, I feel bad for the CaroMont team here. They were trying to be bold and a little controversial to get attention. Something that, quite frankly, we see too little of in healthcare marketing. Furthermore, the slogan overshadowed what appears to be a serious program intended to promote wellness and stave off disease. Again, a step that many healthcare organizations know that we need to be committing ourselves to and one that more than a few organizations give little more than lip service.
But it all went bad over two words: “Cheat Death.”
What can we learn from this?
For starters, healthcare is a unique space from a marketing perspective. More and more provider organizations are moving to agencies with big brand credentials over those dedicated to healthcare. But those agencies often don’t understand how their messages will play with a healthcare audience. We have an agency involved here that, according to their website, “…specializes in creating hard to ignore and impossible to forget solutions…” The campaign certainly lived up to their brand promise!
Now, if you’re putting a message out that you intend to be controversial, don’t be surprised that it’s controversial. I think CaroMont could have really embraced the controversy and stood by their decision if only for a week or two. This would have allowed them to use the publicity to push a message about improving wellness and working to reduce the incidence of disease. By caving almost immediately, the team looked incompetent.
Also use the Internet for some quick, inexpensive and very effective marketing research. For example you should Google your proposed taglines. In this case, the slogan wasn’t particularly original. Some of you may recall a similar outcry when the identical slogan was adopted by juice maker Pom in 2010. Certainly a quick Internet search would have turned this up.
Pom was pushing the limits and didn’t immediately back down. It made the short-lived campaign memorable. Maybe a drink maker who is regularly chided for making overzealous health claims about its product can get away with that in a way that a hospital can’t.
But there’s no reason not to think that the tagline would stir up controversy.
Perhaps the campaign was more fundamentally flawed than I’m giving it credit for. We’ve been talking more and more about the inherent risk in investing months and months – along with many thousands of dollars – into big splash branding campaigns.
The new tagline was really for their new wellness campaign. As a campaign message, they could easily have tested the message in the market using online promotion while maintaining flexibility to tweak things on the fly.
In fact, following an approach like Geonetric’s Responsive Campaignssm is the best way to avoid this sort of disaster using a very dynamic, results-driven approach that utilizes actual user behavior and feedback in optimizing the effectiveness of the communications throughout a campaign cycle.
I hope that the take-away from this isn’t that we should avoid being bold and memorable. That we shouldn’t take risks in our advertising. Healthcare marketing needs a real shot in the arm. While this effort may have missed the mark, that doesn’t mean that we should step back to only do what’s comfortable and safe.