American Consumer Project

Health-Care Marketing in for Overhaul as Consumer Attitudes Shift

Ad Age Insights Report Suggests Messaging Should Address Cost Concerns, Caregivers

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Alfredo is caught in the middle.

He lives in Los Angeles County with his wife and two children. His mother lives next door. His wife works part-time at JC Penney and gets a small monthly stipend from the state for helping with Alfredo's mother, who has dementia and needs round-the-clock care. But her stipend goes to pay a caregiver for the 12 hours a day that she can't be there.

American Consumer Project
American Consumer Project Credit: David Flaherty

Alfredo and his sister take turns at night caring for their mother.

It all exacts a financial and emotional toll.

"I want to get a part-time job to get at least some money saved up for whatever, and it's kind of a no-go right now since I have to be here every other day," said Alfredo, who's employed full-time job at a logistics company.

There are plenty of Alfredos out there. According to the Ad Age /Ipsos Observer American Consumer Survey, the area in which he lives (an Immigration Nation county in the Patchwork Nation framework and a Global Roots in Tapestry) has a large Hispanic population and overindexes on families responsible for parental care.

Alfredo has at least one thing going for him: His mother had lifetime health benefits from her job in a factory, where she made photo albums. Between her insurance and Medicare, all health-care costs are covered except for her caregiver.

With the recession and health-care legislation driving the focus on saving money, however, Medicare is looking to shave costs. For example, hospitals want to limit post-treatment visits to satisfy Medicare, which is reducing payments for patients who make unnecessary return trips. Keeping patients away from the hospital means changing their behavior on things such as following the doctor's orders and taking medication properly.

This joint trend report from Ad Age Insights and Modern Healthcare seeks to understand current generational attitudes toward healthcare and health decisions, and how the role of caregivers can influence healthcare purchases.

The logic is that getting people to take their medicine correctly cuts costs for hospitals, creates revenue for pharmaceutical companies and improves patient health. But changing health-care habits will require marketing on the parts of insurers, medical facilities and drugmakers focused on preventative and wellness care. Knowing how best to address different segments is crucial.

Advertising Age, as part of its American Consumer Project, teamed up with sibling Modern Healthcare to study generational attitudes, as well as different attitudes overall, within our county segments. We partnered with market research firm GfK MRI to perform custom analysis of their survey of more than 25,000 consumers and conducted exclusive research with Ipsos Observer.

A new Ad Age Insights and Modern Healthcare Insights report covers a wide range of topics, including prescription medications, herbal remedies, doctor visits, care-giving responsibilities and how consumers receive messages about those things. (For a deeper dive, please see the full Trend report at

With the rise of multigenerational households, as well as an overall aging population, families are increasingly involved in cross-generational caregiving. The phenomenon is especially visible with boomers, sandwiched between their millennial children (struggling to support themselves and now allowed to stay on their parent's insurance until 26) and their increasingly frail parents.

Watching their folks contend with these matters is causing millennials and Gen Xers to consider how they will shoulder some responsibility for their parents' care -- even if they're not giving too much thought to their relatively-healthy selves. It's important for marketers to craft messages that consider the needs of patients as well as the caregivers who influence health-care decisions.

The Silver Cross Center for Women's Health in New Lenox, Ill., developed a campaign targeted at boomers and Gen Xers, the groups most likely to be others' caregivers. The "I Matter" campaign launched in 2010 to encourage breast cancer and cardiac screenings, with an affinity program rewarding patient behavior with discount vouchers for area retailers. More than 4,400 people have joined the program, and the average number of monthly screenings rose sharply the year after rollout.

Such an effort might work well for Sandra, 42, in East Baton Rouge Parrish, La. She's too busy watching out for her 4- and 18-year-old daughters to stay on top of her own health care. Areas like hers (Minority Central/Metropolis) tend to be lower-income and heavily African-American.

According to GfK MRI, Sandra's age group is less reliant on doctors and more likely to turn to the internet to research health-care questions. Sandra checks things out online to self-diagnose before going to the doctor.

"I do that with probably any ailment that I have. I research it first, and when I go into the doctor's office she would always say, 'Oh, you probably went looking online,'" Sandra said. She also gets a lot of her information -- and sometimes it seems her symptoms themselves -- from TV and magazine ads. For instance, she saw an ad for a medication for restless-leg syndrome medication and decided she was feeling leg pains like the people in the commercial. Upon consulting with her doctor, she was told that she doesn't have the syndrome.

Sandra appreciates the occasional proactive communication she gets from her insurer, she said. "They just wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself." She said she would also be receptive to receiving more e-mails, texts and even direct mail from health-care providers, drugmakers, insurers and her doctor, and it would most likely help her keep better track of her own health, she said.

According to the Ad Age Ipsos survey, all age groups preferred to receive communications about health care via e-mail, followed by mail, phone and text messaging. The margins between email and other modes were wide in all but the most rural areas.

Our survey found that a near majority of Americans take health-care costs into account when creating a household budget, and that those expenses increasingly absorb more of their budgets.

But we don't see messaging about health-care costs as much as we see ads discussing the quality and effectiveness of care. That's partly because determining the real out-of -pocket price of a procedure or medication can be difficult.

Dave Weineke, digital business strategy lead at Isite Design, which creates campaigns for health-care providers, said the situation is ripe for change.

"This may be a five- or 15-year move," Mr. Weineke said. "But just like people used to buy their travel differently, we see that there is a huge movement starting on how people think about buying health services." Younger consumers, who might not have the same level of coverage that their parents did, would be especially receptive to a change that would let them comparison shop.

Contributing: David Hirschman

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