In Defense of Negative Health Care Advertising

Negative advertising doesn’t always work (one notable exception is in politics, as we have seen in South Carolina and Florida recently). However, as a health care marketer, and someone who’s mission is to help change the fate of our health care system, I applaud the new campaign by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Someone has to do it.

The fastest growing public health problem in the United States is obesity. And while “healthy at any size”, public awareness, education campaigns and overall good intentions are great at making people aware of and often feel good about obesity, they are doing nothing to stop the epidemic. Obesity continues to spread at an alarming rate, and along with it the associative problems like heart disease, diabetes, etc.

It might seem simple to blame our healthcare system’s problems all on the high cost of malpractice insurance, high physician pay, inefficiencies in hospitals or the egregious profits of pharmaceutical companies. The hard reality is, if Americans don’t change their behavior, the health care system in the US will get much, much more expensive.

I certainly don’t condone an all out negativity war. However, there are times and places for campaigns like this. We worked many years ago with the New York State Health Department on anti smoking campaigns. While it would have been nice to market “healthy at half a pack a day” to convince smokers (mostly young, adolescent smokers) to feel good about themselves, the reality was that the only thing that had any impact on helping them quit was negative advertising – telling teenagers that smoking made them undesirable, or they were a sucker for lining the tobacco company’s pockets at the expense of their own health. You may remember Truth’s high profile body bag campaign. A negative campaign that had enormous impact.

There is a place for these campaigns. IMHO, we as a society don’t do enough of them.