I love old advertising campaigns and healthcare ads are some of my favorites. How nuts is it that doctors promoting cigarettes were allowed?!
This article is a little different than many of the others as I’ve intended it to be a swipe file with different medical advertisement examples that you can bookmark for later reference. It covers some of the best healthcare ads of all time for fun and inspiration, and a longer list of examples I’ve found in the wild.
The only real-world examples from back in the day are billboards. Billboards are still used today but we now have many more exciting channels available like Google search, Facebook, and Youtube video ads. I’ll be less focused on the format and more on the message since every ad can be tailored to other formats if the messaging is right but it doesn’t apply the other way around.
Swipefile: 13 of the best healthcare ads for your inspiration
The ads are in random order and not organized based on my personal favorites. The big challenge I had finding ads that stood out is that most of them are very similar and generically talk about how much the brand cares or how big the discount is.
Anyway, let’s dive in!
1. SickKids VS: This Is Why
Quote from their website about the campaign:
“Originally launched in 2016, this year marks the beginning of the fourth chapter of the VS brand platform. To-date the SickKids VS Limits campaign has reached almost 75 percent of it’s $1.3 billion goal – the largest fundraiser in Canadian health care history. This year’s campaign aims to reach those who may not already have a connection with The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).”
An advertisement from 1930 asserts that 20,679 physicians say that Lucky Strike cigarettes are less irritating.
An ad from the 1950s asserting that a dentist recommends Viceroy cigarettes.
Santa Claus, apparently, was a smoker too and enjoyed Pall Malls in this ad from 1951.
Quote from the creators: “For decades the University of Bergen has affected the whole world with scientific discoveries. This year they celebrate 75 years, so to mark the anniversary, we promoted several of the research findings they’ve achieved since its founding.
One of these findings was Professor Trond Markestad and his team’s research on crib death. For decades, sleeping on the stomach could lead to crib death, but they found out that newborns rather should sleep on their backs. Quickly after this research had reached the public, Norway witnessed a decrease in the number of crib death cases, and in the end, the statistics got halved.”
“Victory is greatest when you’ve met defeat. Here, Kids Win.”
OneMedical’s ad takes a fun twist on Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I don’t know the backstory of this ad.
By Great Ormond Street Hospital and Charity.
“End the cover-up” by Galderma pharmaceutical
“Benefits You Want” by Friday Health Plans.
An unscientific look at healthcare ads on Facebook
I stumbled upon one of my old articles from when I worked in the travel industry. It showed research I had found about travel advertising and I realized that researching and sharing insights is a great way to keep up with how the space is evolving.
Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at the Facebook ads that healthcare startups are running to get inspiration for new campaigns and learn more about what the industry does with such a popular yet challenging platform.
Social media often doesn’t feel like the best channel for healthcare businesses as many rely on the demand from a patient rather than someone who is just randomly browsing Facebook wondering what doctors are up to today.
Among all the ads I found, many of the ads are in foreign languages. I thought they would be a good contribution to the overview, so I’ve left them in and used Facebook or Google’s translation feature to translate them into English.
That means that the translation might not be perfectly accurate but it should be good enough for everyone to understand the core message – which, as you’ll see later, is similar across the board.
After using Facebook’s ad library, I realized that most of the ads I found there were related to political or environmental issues which are not a fit for you and me.
So instead I had to manually research and find all the companies and check if they had ads running via their Facebook page as shown in the screenshot below.
As I was looking up the ads, I noticed that the majority of the startups were running many different ads. I’m assuming it is because they are running A/B tests which is great to see.
If you are interested in looking up any of the ads or see a companies’ other ads you simply follow the screenshot I added above. Facebook has made that fully available for everyone to browse: open their Facebook fan page, click “Info and Ads” and select country. If you don’t see any button to select a country it is because there are no ads available.
Out of the 400 startups I looked at, I only found 50 that advertised on Facebook (12.5%).
It makes sense as the channel is generally not a natural fit for healthcare ads as the behavior I have experienced among people is more focused on solving a problem (e.g. curing a fever) rather than doing something preventive.
Of course, there could be several other reasons such as not having enough funding to prioritize Facebook ads, being at a stage where advertising there does not make sense, or that the startup is simply in a market where Facebook does not make sense to advertise in such as B2B related services.
Medical ads study: the insights
The ads were from startups in the following regions of the world. I am aware of the Brexit but I have added England as part of Europe because the focus is on the geographical location and has no relation to politics.
America has the vast majority of companies I found advertising on Facebook.
The USA accounts for 52% of all the startups I found advertising while India accounts for 10%.
Many of the American startups were located in California. Like India, they also seem to have a culture that is highly engaged in health and wellbeing which might explain why.
I divided the startups into the following broad business categories:
- Offline clinic/center
- Mental health
- Social network
- Find a doctor and/or online consultation (I grouped these together as I noticed many of the companies that offer one also offer the other)
- B2C software (think e.g. scheduling software)
- AI diagnosis
- Related to a specific disease/diagnosis/treatment (startups that focus on something specific e.g. Parkinson’s disease)
As you see, the ‘Find a doctor and/or online consultation’-category is by far the largest one. I notice that of the startups I looked at, there were generally one working on that subject per country except for in the US and India where there were many.
Branding or direct response content
Among the Facebook ads, we see an almost even split between direct response copy and branding ads.
I’m surprised that so many startups are doing direct response ads as Facebook ads generally isn’t the best platform for our industry. I had imagined there would be more branding ads.
I also noticed that most of the ads were generic. More often than not I see better results from a specific message delivered to highly targeted customers. The more personalized it is, the better the response.
It’s an interesting angle Heal uses here. They are fully aware that it is unlikely for them to mostly reach the right people on Facebook, so instead of pushing people to do something with their app now, they lean into the fact that people won’t be using it right now. I like that.
I also like how Babylon Health is trying a specific angle related to one’s heart. This is one of the more ‘personalized’ ads I’ve seen among that bunch. It just goes to show that the messages are really general. Perhaps that is an opportunity for us?
It’s a shame for the target audiences that the messages are so generic as they are getting a less appealing experience which is usually shown in the performance.
By segmenting the ads into different sub-groups of customers and personalizing the ads to each, the brands will usually get more bang for their buck.
Copy length: short form vs long form
Next, I looked at whether the ads used short-form copy, long-form copy, or somewhere in-between.
Interestingly, I did not see any correlation between branding vs direct response content and the length of the copy.
Of those that do advertise on Facebook, the biggest win across the board would be to work on making the ad copy much more specific and emotional.
By using Facebook’s targeting options to turn a larger campaign into several smaller ones with niche audiences and personalized content, it tends to be easier to capture the interest of your target audience.
If you want to swipe the ads, I’ve put them together in a Google doc available here (click file > make a copy to save a copy of the doc).