A few weeks ago, I was heading home from a run in my neighborhood, when I noticed an ad on the side of a bus. “We’re Baby-Friendly!” claimed the ad from Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, a hospital located nearby in Rockville, MD.
As it turns out, the hospital was advertising that it has become the first hospital in the state of Maryland to receive Baby-Friendly designation through the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Baby-Friendly program recognizes hospitals that “offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding.” The designation requires hospitals to meet specific guidelines, including providing newborns no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically required and facilitating “rooming in” and unrestricted breastfeeding. Fewer than 10 percent of babies born in the United States are born in a Baby-Friendly designated hospital, as there are only 177 such hospitals in the country.
So, this is a pretty big deal for Shady Grove Adventist. However, it is important to note that I don’t have children. Nor am I pregnant. Presumably, I could be the target demographic (female, of child-bearing age), but otherwise, nothing about this advertisement should have been speaking to me. Nevertheless, I was drawn to it. I live in an area where hospital/medical advertising is commonplace. Within an hour are some of the best hospitals in the world, including Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. Just a few miles around the Capital beltway is another facility renowned in the area for its fantastic maternity unit. And maybe that’s what actually caught my attention.
This bus ad was a prime example of advertising competition in my field. This isn’t Pepsi versus Coke or iPhone versus Android. I’ve been on the peripheral of health care marketing for much of my career, and I’ve focused a great deal of time and effort on the messaging part, but, because I’ve never been a “real” marketer, I’ve never spent much time thinking about competition between health care facilities. But the competition is real, and it’s ever changing.
U.S. hospitals spend more than $1.5 billion annually on advertising. Of course, we know that it wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the American Hospital Association allowed advertising of hospital services at all. For the decades that followed, hospital advertising was distinct from most other industries because the consumer (the patient) actually had very little say in what care they received, let alone in what facility they received the care. However, we’re in a different age now, and consumers have more control than ever over their health care options. According to Health Works Collective, although physician liaison marketing still tops the list as the “most successful” marketing tool, “publicity,” is number two.
I’d say that the bus ad I saw is doing a pretty good job of publicizing the hospital, as I’ve told multiple people about it, and it’s something I’ll remember if ever I do need a “baby-friendly” hospital. Plus, it spawned this blog post!
The bottom line is that with the continued growth of social media and online outreach, I believe we’re just scratching the surface of what we’ll see in terms of health care advertising and marketing. Stay tuned for a follow-up post next month for more about how marketing fits into health care and how we, as health care communicators, fit into marketing.