Hospitals' newspaper ads missing marketing opportunities, study finds

Hospitals spend money to advertise in metropolitan daily newspapers, but they use many of the same attributes in their messaging, according to a new study.

For the study, two health administration researchers at Philadelphia-based Drexel University examined hospital ads placed in a special weekly health section of The Philadelphia Inquirer for May 2013 through April 2016.

"We believe that hospital advertising creative teams may not be aware that they are using the same themes of either 'patients' or 'health providers' as their focus," Stephen F. Gambescia, PhD, co-author and professor of the marketing health services course in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions, said in a news release. "There is certainly nothing wrong with using 'high touch' advertising attributes and focusing on patients, but it flies in the face of a primary marketing principle to differentiate among your competitors, especially with such a high-price service as healthcare."

Researchers identified, categorized and accounted for frequencies of attributes used in nearly 170 hospital print advertisements during the study period. They found that "patients" was the most frequently used primary attribute in hospitals' print advertisements, with the attribute appearing in 35 percent of the ads. This was followed by "health professionals" at 27 percent. The least frequently used primary attributes were "technology" (4 percent) and "procedures" (3 percent).

"Branding" was the most frequently used attribute when researchers combined primary and secondary impressions in ads, according to the study.

"We concluded that hospitals are true to the marketing objective of  'winning the hearts' of healthcare consumers by using patients as the main model in ads," Caichen Zhong, who co-authored the study as a student in the health services administration program said in the news release. "But hospitals seem to be spending a lot of money to convey the same message."


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