It's not often that a hospital ad campaign strikes a chord with ordinary viewers. After all, who wants to think about disease and doctors when they're well? But when 38,000 people view the video testimonial of a nine-year-old girl on New York-Presbyterian Hospital's website, that's something of a game changer.
New York-Presbyterian's "Amazing Things Are Happening Here" campaign, through its agency Munn Rabot and production company Lost Highway Films, has been running since 2009; it recently released a new set of films, which are currently airing during shows such as Mad Men. While testimonials are hardly a new idea in hospital advertising, New York Presbyterian's approach stands out. Shot in polished black and white, and lacking the tear-jerking background music that characterizes many "testimonial" style hospital ads, the films are unadorned, intimate portraits of real former patients such as Eugenia Kaye and Heather McNamara, (the aforementioned nine-year-old girl). Not only do they do not feature actors, the ads are unscripted and their subjects appear real and natural. Heather McNamara, for instance, mispronounces the name of the hospital in a way that any nine-year-old understandably might; it wasn't edited out.
"We wanted to be as authentic as we possibly can, to bring out these personalities and take anything extraneous out," says Peter Rabot, the director of the films and founder of Munn Rabot. "Hospital advertising is notoriously difficult. Most healthy people don't want to think about being sick, so they find it a turn off; that's the natural human response. We wanted to find a way for people to actually engage with these people and their stories."
Rabot has been working with New York-Presbyterian for 14 years, but explains that over the years, the hospital's marketing strategy has changed. Originally, it wanted to promote its reputation as academic center of excellence. However, such places, while revered for their medical know-how, can lack the reputation for compassion that may lead patients to opt for their local, community hospitals instead. But now, (under CEO Dr. Steven Corwin, appointed last year) New York-Presbyterian's philosophy is centered around 'putting patients first'. So, as well as highlighting its exceptional medical care, it also wants to emphasize that it is prepared to go "above and beyond the call of duty" for its patients.
A perfect example of this is apparent in the testimonial by firefighter Matt Long, who was seriously injured during the 2005 transit strikes. The orthopedic doctor was unable to cross town by himself in his car because of travel restrictions on single person cars. So he bundled his pregnant wife and kids in the car in order to get to his patient as fast as he could.
Rabot and his team (including Munn Rabot creative director John Stingley, who guides the interviews and asks the questions, and DP Maryse Alberti, a cinematographer who has worked on feature films such as "The Wrestler" and "When We Were Kings") film each patient for around two hours. Often this takes place after an initial visit at home. Some case studies are identified via hospital PR; others are picked up from stories in the press. Although many are nervous at first when they come into the studio, Rabot says they usually "very quickly become comfortable: they are people who have been through such a lot, and they genuinely want to tell their stories." When filming nine year old Heather, they asked her to tell her story as she would to a friend.
Interactivity also plays a central role in the campaign. Viewers are directed to visit a microsite to view long-form versions of the videos, and there's also a Facebook page where people can comment on the stories. For a hospital campaign, there has been a high level of online engagement; for example animated banners that ran in the online editions of The Wall Street Journal, receiving the highest Starch scores ever for any hospital.
David Feinberg, VP and chief marketing officer for New York-Presbyterian, says: "Consumer response has been so remarkable because these are real people telling real stories in their own words. We have worked very hard to eliminate hype and hyperbole, so their honesty comes through loud and clear. While New York-Presbyterian has always been well known for advanced, sophisticated medicine, this campaign adds a new dimension, a focus on the patient and all aspects of their care."
Rabot says he sees the work as more of a long term branding campaign than an immediate call to action. "It's about creating a long term relationship with the consumers in the area," he says. "People will hopefully see these ads and feel good about the brand. I've had many people come up and say to me, "when I get sick, I am going to go there."