WebMD's $35 mil campaign takes symbolic turn

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Internet healthcare company WebMD later this month breaks a $35 million campaign that uses unusual images to promote the site's offerings.

The cable ads, from Gotham, New York, combine some odd elements: the desert outside Moab, Utah; classic cars; director Danny Duchovny (brother of "X-Files" star David); and lots of symbolism.

According to Gotham CEO Stone Roberts, those disparate parts all played a role in a campaign that's symbolic of how WebMD provides healthcare information.

The TV spot, which is said to have cost $3 million to produce, features two vintage cars driving toward each other on a dusty road outside Moab. One car carries patients, the other a team of doctors.


Nearly colliding, the 1971 Oldsmobile 422 and 1968 Pontiac LeMans suddenly turn and ride parallel over a canyon toward a new direction, meant to symbolize a new healthcare horizon. The spot ends with the cars racing together down a long stretch of road.

"We wanted it to be symbolic of what's going on in healthcare today and show how we drive people to a single source," Mr. Roberts said.

The desert-road setting is meant to represent the vast information superhighway, while trust in WebMD's physicians is expressed by the doctors' willingness to ride off a cliff with patients, the executive noted.

Radio spots and print ads will supplement the TV.

Four commercials break on the Westwood One radio network this month. Print will follow in consumber and business publications. WebMD in December launched a trade campaign that targeted the medical community. One print ad showed 10 unreadable scribbles on a page, with the headline: "We just signed up 10 more doctors (we think)."

WebMD, which markets itself as the premier Internet healthcare portal, provides free information to consumers and subscriber services to physicians. Among its services, WebMD offers links to major insurance providers, a library of medical news and real-time insurance verification. Later this year WebMD will merge with Healtheon Corp.

The new campaign comes as consumers are clamoring for more medical infomration through online sources. In 1998, more than 60 million Americans used the Internet for health and medical information, according to a poll by Louis Harris & Associates.

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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