Pain: Defined {physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury. Mental suffering or distress.}

Advertising to people in pain is a delicate undertaking. Digital tools provide advertisers with a new degree of private information with which to better target potential patients. Federal laws do what they can to protect these vulnerable audiences but most of the power is still in the hands of marketers who should choose to deploy their strategies carefully for the best results.

The Dark Cloud Over Medical Advertising

Advertising has a reputation for being a predatory industry. Television shows like MadMen portray a cut-throat business where ad strategies are based largely on manipulating an audience into making a purchase. Over the decades, consumers have become far more skeptical of the ads that cross their path.

Medical advertising is seen as having a particularly dark character. The perception of medical advertising is that it employs the same accomplices as the rest of the advertising industry – except it applies them to people in pain, therefore taking advantage of people who are suffering. It’s a vulgar concept that would make even the most optimistic of prospective patients second guess their medical service providers.

Like all advertising, the medical advertising field has been particularly impacted by the open-source nature of the internet. In bygone times it used to be able to take advantage of the fact that patients feedback had limited reach. Because of the private nature of most medical conditions there may even have existed an over-confidence that patients wouldn’t go-on to review their experiences with the medical businesses they interacted. In 2018 we can clearly see that this over-confidence was misplaced. Platforms like MayoClinic, Healthgrades, and RateMD have illustrated that patients are willing to be quite open about their medical experiences and prospective patients are very trusting of other patients’ reviews.

Targeting Prospective Patients with New Digital Tools

Online privacy is a topic that’s on the forefront of many people’s minds these days as new regulations are implemented and consumers learn just how much of their information is retained and shared. In the medical field laws like HIPAA in the United States and PIPEDA in Canada aim to protect PHI (Personal Health Information) but the integration of these laws with new digital tools is a complex process and data is slipping through the cracks.

Platforms like Google Analytics cache a frightening amount of information about all online users and that includes anyone searching for medical services online. This detailed data can be used for marketing initiatives and can be ported into platforms like Google Ads and used for advertising.

A Delicate Approach Benefits Everybody

At M.Ad we have learned from first-hand experience that subtle advertising is far more effective than overt, aggressive advertising especially when advertising to vulnerable audiences. Medical advertising should be about connecting people in pain to solutions for their pain. Furthermore, it should be about connecting people in pain to the shortest path to being ‘pain-free’ as possible. Transparency afforded by the internet age.

How to Delicately Advertise to People in Pain:

  • Understand the medical treatments/devices/medications you are advertising so you’re better able to honestly communicate to the group of people they would be most effective for. This involves staying in frequent contact with the medical professionals who developed and interact with the products/services every day.
  • Follow federal laws about what user information can be used in marketing and advertising campaigns.
  • People in pain are not unaware. Do not patronize them and do not use manipulative tones. The content will come across as disingenuous and customers won’t engage.
  • For the highest engagement rates, use ads as an opportunity to relate to the symptoms your target audience is experiencing.

Don’t Run from the Heavy-Lifting

Many of the advertising campaigns we design and execute at M.Ad are on behalf of healthcare providers who are looking to reach potential patients who may be struggling with psychiatric disorders and mental health conditions. It may sound heavy (because it is) but part of our research process involves reading about how individuals struggling with these conditions perceive reality:

Are they operating in a bit of a haze? Do their energy levels fluctuate through-out the day? What part of the pain they’re in are they most looking to find relief from? How can we speak to that in an ad?

It should not be a predatory process, it should be a process rooted in compassion. At M.Ad, we learn as much as we can about the people who are in pain, in an effort to connect these people with the shortest path to pain-relief possible. In conclusion, people in pain are delicate and should be handled with care by healthcare providers and healthcare advertisers alike.