Healthcare Marketing: Drive Awareness and Convert Customers with Humor + Authenticity

Apr 06

There’s nothing inherently funny about joint replacement surgery. I know. Three days ago I had my right hip replaced and I am so. not. laughing.

That said, I also know that humor woven into well-told, authentic stories is one of the best ways to cut through media clutter, create connections, drive awareness, and convert customers – even in an industry as serious as health care. Eight years ago, humor and a “feel for what’s real” played a big role in making a small community hospital in South Carolina among the top destinations for joint replacement in the state. How do I know? I was the writer/producer who crafted the campaign.

Newberry Hospital is a small, rural hospital in South Carolina that found itself, like so many other community hospitals, competing with large hospital systems in nearby cities. It was definitely a David vs. Goliath situation and Newberry Hospital was getting crushed. The urban hospital systems had thousands of physicians, gleaming new buildings and the latest technology. Newberry Hospital had a medical staff of less than 100, a serviceable physical plant and good technology. Comparing the two, it was easy to understand why people would choose a big city health system over the local guys.

But Newberry Hospital had something the big health systems didn’t have. A sense of humor and a distinct sense of place.

The hospital also had a talented group of orthopedic surgeons, Palmetto Bone & Joint, that had won national awards for superior outcomes and patient satisfaction. Finally, Newberry Hospital had a marketing director willing to go out on a limb with a nontraditional approach.

One thing Newberry Hospital didn’t have was a huge production budget. So instead of professional actors, we had to use real joint replacement patients in our ads. Knowing the real people approach could easily bomb, talent selection was key. Our criteria included people:

  • who believed in the hospital and its orthopedic surgeons;
  • had a good story to tell;
  • had outgoing personalities; and
  • were not afraid to laugh at themselves.

Being in a small town where word-of-mouth (read: gossip) is gospel truth, we also wanted people who were known in the community and had authentic local accents. This was important; we wanted our target audience to stop what they were doing and watch the TV spots because they recognized a familiar voice.

The first person we chose was a college professor named Ginger. When Ginger learned she needed hip replacement surgery, she bypassed the big city health systems in favor of Newberry Hospital, something her friends were skeptical of. Her goals were simple: she wanted to continue teaching, walk her dog and dance, all without pain.

When I interviewed Ginger, I knew she was perfect. She shared her story without hesitation. And she laughed. A lot. It was then up to me to write a 30-second script that told the story and let her personality shine in a compelling way. On the day of filming, Ginger was a natural. The final edited spot was on point, fun and believable. Watch Ginger’s story here.

The second person selected was a mechanic named Ty Senn. Ty was the epitome of local color; a good old boy who was thrilled with the knee replacement surgery he’d had done at Newberry Hospital. My interview with Ty revealed the nuances of his story and his sense of humor. I knew we had our guy and he didn’t let us down the day we filmed at a local country store. Watch Ty’s story here.

The television ads were supported by print, radio, social media, and newsletter stories that provided additional information on Newberry Hospital’s joint replacement program, their rankings and certifications, and contact information for the orthopedic surgeons. Soon, word-of-mouth chatter was in high gear. Inquiries and patient volumes picked up quickly among locals and people from across South Carolina. It was pretty gratifying to see David beat Goliath.

If you’re not from the South, you may not “get” these spots. (Those accents! That truck! What is shagging?) But for Newberry Hospital, the humor and authenticity of Ginger and Ty were very effective in driving awareness and converting customers. And isn’t that what we all strive for in our marketing?

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