Ten tips for great healthcare ads

By Jenny Orr on April 1st, 2009

My good friend Mary Robbins taught me many things about effective advertising. She has served as a creative director for Ogilvy & Mather, Cohn & Wells, ACQ, Robbins Brandt Richter and others. With hundreds of awards for creativity, she’s most proud of campaigns that delivered measurable ROI for her clients.

I’m finding that Mary’s list below – pulled from one of the gazillion articles she has written on advertising that works – is also useful in the healthcare industry. I often glaze over most healthcare advertising that I see. So the list below, mixed with a little creativity, can get your ads noticed and better yet, get people to respond!

  1. Photography usually works better than illustration.  People’s imaginations aren’t always as robust as we’d like to believe. (This doesn’t mean we have to show smiling doctors and nurses on everything. Emotive photography and humor through photographic images are a great way to get the viewer to stop and take notice.)
  2. Ads that contain a reply device or “where to find out more” details sell more than those that don’t. Yes, just by letting your readers know your product or company is accessible by phone, email, or Web site increases sales.
  3. Headlines that contain a feature or benefit  pull up to 10 times better than those that don’t.  David Ogilvy used to say that 98% of the people who look at your ad read the headline and look at the photo and that’s it. Therefore, if your headline doesn’t sell, it is flawed.
  4. Certain words do work better than others. New, free, first-time, etc. If you can find a way to weave those magic words into your ads, do so.
  5. The message should fit the media. Perhaps obvious, but a subtle learning here.  If you are selling skis, put your ad in a ski magazine. That’s the obvious learning. Less obvious, is to tailor your ads to the medium. Magazines are often about lifestyle. Does your ad take that into account? Does it speak to leisure-time activities? Or in the case of business-to-business magazines, often aimed at a specific industry, does it speak to business needs?
  6. It’s a crime to use too much reversed out type (white out of black, but also color out of color). I’ve tested this one over and over, and hate to say it but…if your ad is hard to read, people will not read it.
  7. Tell a story. Through your pictures, or in a campaign…David Ogilvy discovered this years ago when he added an eye-patch to the Hathaway shirt man and turned a male model into a story. Who was this mysterious man? Why did he lose his eye? Was he the owner of the company? People wrote hundreds of letters, asking these and other burning questions that kept this campaign alive for years.
  8. Color works.  On the other hand, print black type on a light background, say light green or cream, and it’ll work harder than an ad with a white background. That was a great finding when we tested it for Hewlett-Packard.  And 4-color photos usually work better than black and white.
  9. Involving your audience works better than boring them. Tactile devices, games, punch out and play, cut along the dotted lines etc – all seem to engage your reader and add memorability to your brand.
  10. Actions speak louder than….boring copy. After you’ve completed your ad, or your agency presents you one for approval, think about the verbs. Are they action-oriented or passive? A jogging salesman sells more than a man that is walking. I’ve learned that action words, as well as ones that paint a picture, excite, delight and ignite your readers into action.