VIEWPOINT: HARD LESSON IN AMA FOLLY; PICTURE THIS

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The spectacle of the American Medical Association trying to back out of its endorsement deal with Sunbeam Corp. is a sobering reminder that, in the healthcare market, there are special sensitivities involved that marketers-and health organizations-ignore at their peril.

Co-branding, as in the Sunbeam deal, is a popular idea in today's marketing world and it apparently intrigues the AMA as well. An AMA staff "brand equity"

committee is still examining how the doctors' group might use its name in new alliances with outside organizations. We can also imagine Sunbeam's enthusiasm at winning AMA's exclusive endorsement for its new line of Sunbeam Health at Home appliances: blood pressure monitors, heating pads, thermometers, etc.

Neither AMA nor Sunbeam bargained on the firestorm that ensued, of course, though it's puzzling they were so blind. The potentially substantial royalties AMA would receive, tied to sale of the Sunbeam products, made AMA, and by implication its member doctors, business partners with Sunbeam-even if the proceeds were to finance high-sounding AMA health education projects. The profits and the appearance of an uncritical endorsement are the deal-breakers here.

The way healthcare services are delivered-by doctors, dentists, pharmacists-is undergoing sweeping change, as the AMA and Sunbeam well know. There's widespread public unease that health professionals' first allegiance is no longer to patients but to often unseen business organizations. AMA's offer to help Sunbeam hawk thermometers for a share in the profits crystalized those fears in a way other health organization marketing ventures have not.

The message for marketers, health professionals and health organizations is that they can share common interests but work together only in carefully circumscribed ways. "Doctors recommend" has been part of the marketing lexicon for decades. But where's the value if the doctor looks like a pitchman working on commission for the marketer?

Kia motors america has been slowly but surely making its entry into the U.S. market, starting on the West Coast a while back. It decided to go cautiously, learning along the way. That sounds like a smart approach.

Not so smart, however, have been the actions of Kia's South Korean parent. Apparently not having gotten any advice from its West Coast-based offspring, the Korean company's ad people visited the U.S. recently and

snapped some pictures. They then went back to Korea and proceeded to doctor a photo taken of a passerby shot on the streets of San Francisco, to have him glance in admiration at one of Kia's cars. The photo was used in an ad, which ran in Korean publications.

This raised two problems (three counting the basic fact above): The man photographed was wearing a shirt with his employer's company name emblazoned on it; the ad ran in a Korean Airlines publication and an executive of the company the man worked for in Iowa saw the ad on an overseas flight. End result: Lawsuit against Kia by the man unwittingly photographed on the streets of San Francisco.

It seems the South Korean company still needs to learn some things about the good old U.S. of A. In this country, clothes say who we are, where we've been. Our shirts, shoes, hats, wristbands, promote. Our body language isn't free.

Oh, yes, we also litigate.

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