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0 Comments | Jan 06, 2010

Why Consistency Is Sometimes More Important Than Creativity

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” While that may be true, in advertising, we call being consistent a campaign. That is, a cohesive, organized series of ads with a single idea or theme featuring a consistent look, feel, and tone throughout all the media utilized. And, while I’ve always been an advocate of creativity in advertising, too much creativity can kill an advertiser’s consistency.

For example, consider the case of one local hospital system. (In the name of full disclosure, I feel compelled to mention the hospital in question is where I was born. And yes, I know you’re asking, “Why would they still be trying to advertise? After your birth, they’ll never have such a significant event there ever again!” Quite frankly, I’m a bit baffled myself!) While they’ve mounted a consistent campaign over a short period of time, their long-term campaign message has been all over the map.

Let me first state that health care advertising is both easy and difficult. On one hand, it’s easy because you’re selling a service that essentially requires image advertising. This most often takes the form of shots of dedicated doctors, cancer survivors, newborn babies, triumphant moments of rehabilitation, and cutting edge medical technology. And, for those very reasons, it’s also difficult, because it’s tough to reinvent the marketing wheel for a service that isn’t top of mind for most people. Which is why the hospital campaign I reference here sticks out.

A couple years ago, said hospital rolled out a campaign featuring TV, outdoor, and radio. The theme was “joyful medicine” and featured doctors, nurses, and hospital staff dancing to The Hustle. The fact that most of these people couldn’t dance and several were morbidly obese (not the image you want to project for a health care facility) was secondary to just how completely off the mark these ads were. One would be hard pressed to have faith in a disco dancing doctor (he’ll beat brain cancer in his white coat by day, then put on his John Travolta white suit and boogie the night away!) and needless to say, it didn’t instill a lot of confidence in their medical prowess.

In less than a year, the disco dancing doctors were dead and the hospital moved to a campaign emphasizing “joyous healing.” This campaign featured those warm, fuzzy traditional healthcare marketing messages and overall, wasn’t too bad. And, though 180° removed from its’ booty-shaking predecessor, it did at least manage to retain some elements that carried over from the old to the new message and helped connect the dots between the two campaigns.

Had they stuck with that direction, I likely wouldn’t be writing this post. Instead, our message hopping hospital turned yet another direction with their current campaign. This one features doctors and nurses joining hands in prayer around an operating table, nurses praying with patients, an a cappella female’s voice singing a weepy, faith-themed song, and pushes the viewer to a prayer-themed website, with the hospital’s name and logo a secondary image. Once you go to the website, you find another theme, “We believe in the power of prayer.” The website also offers one the chance to see and read testimonials from others on how prayer helped heal them, as well as the opportunity to post your own message and ask for prayers yourself. The website also serves as a social media portal, offering visitors a chance to follow the hospital on Facebook and Twitter.

However, to add another symptom to our current medical marketing malaise, said hospital is also running a more traditional TV healthcare spot, highlighting their laser scalpel and using yet another tagline (this one an established, powerful, easy to remember play on the facility’s name). This leaves us with two completely different messages from the same facility, at the same time, which just isn’t the best way to spend your ad dollars.

While a prayer/faith centric campaign will likely play big to many Oklahomans, and the prayer-themed website name has a cute, memorable little rhyme, by throwing away whatever impressions they made with their previous campaign efforts, our consistency-challenged care facility effectively starts from scratch with their new message (which offers the hospital’s name and unique selling point only as a secondary element). And, though I certainly have issues with basing a healthcare facility’s primary marketing message around prayer, my larger issue is the two wildly divergent themes running simultaneously (What’s gonna cure me? The Lord or the laser?) and the lack of consistency in their overall marketing message over the years.

So what have this hapless hospital’s advertising mishaps shown us? First, too much creativity isn’t always a good thing. That the dancing doctors went away so fast speaks to the fact that someone’s cute idea failed miserably. Further, that they’ve thrown most of their eggs in the poetic, prayer-themed website basket shows they’re running with a cute little rhyme and idea and spending less time and money placing the larger emphasis selling the hospital on its’ own merits which, in a competitive field, likely won’t work either. And finally, that they’ve swung so wildly with their message over the last few years means a lot of money has been thrown away on overly creative concepts that didn’t work and whatever impressions they did make with consumers were wasted. Add in that they’re essentially running two campaigns with two themes at the same time now, and they’re only creating more confusion.

Now consider your own advertising message. Has it been consistent so that your customers (and potential new customers) know what to expect from both your company and your marketing? Has it been cohesive and organized so that all your media, be it print, TV, radio, direct mail, and web, works together to complement the other, insuring you offer one, unified message that will make a positive impression with the end user? Finally, does the theme of your campaign emphasize the best points of your business? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, then it might be time to get a second opinion on the health of your advertising!