NY Hospital Goes Too Far with Case Study Marketing

Just because you can tell a story doesn’t mean you should.

In recent years, medical professionals and hospital systems have begun to market directly to consumers, with mixed results I’m sure.  For instance, my dentist has an annual photo contest – maybe that helps build engagement and loyalty, I don’t know.

On a bigger scale, we see the venerable yet still effective “case study” tactic being utilized.

Most of the time, the ad features a person who has significantly benefited, or maybe even had her life saved, due to the great professionals and technology of XYZ medical system.  There’s merit to this approach.  It helps create awareness, builds capability recognition and possibly influences the provider selection decision-making process.

However, it can go too far.

In my mind, a new ad for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital crosses the line and becomes “no, they shouldn’t have done that.”

But first, you watch the ad.

Part one of the story is terrific.  The hospital’s doctors have miraculously saved the boy.  Unfortunately, it’s only temporary.

From the hospital’s website:

“But the tumor continued to grow and over the next few years, Danion underwent four more brain tumor surgeries and 10 procedures related to fluid-draining shunts in his head.  Several months after making the video you see here, Danion succumbed to his condition and sadly, he passed.  His mother says, “If it wasn’t for Dr. Souweidane, the four years that I had with Danion would not have been possible, and I’m forever thankful for that.””

I watched the interview with the Mom posted on the hospital microsite.  I get what she’s saying about the extra time with her son.  Who wouldn’t?  That’s not my purpose here.

What troubles me is the decision to publicize this story on behalf of the hospital.

My view is that the story is inappropriate for this usage.  It feels wrong and perhaps even somewhat exploitative of the family, especially noting the extra patient history details on the hospital’s microsite.  The totality of the story involves assessing quality of life, weighing the impact of invasive medical treatments and factoring time spent together.  These are heavy topics for private family deliberation, not a case-study marketing celebration.

The hospital’s agency, Munn Rabot, says it’s trying to engage, but for me, I was saddened and turned off:

“Who likes hospitals? Who likes hospital advertising? We’ve worked in the hospital category since 1995, so we know how difficult it is to engage people in this area.”

Sometimes, to break-through, it’s okay to have the advertising recipient feel uncomfortable.  Doing so depends in part on the message, product and how the idea is delivered.  But this ad made me feel uncomfortable in a negative way.

Sorry, NewYork-Presbyterian.  You want to give me a case study, give me a happy ending.

You’ve done it numerous times before as part of the same campaign, called “Amazing Things are Happening Here.”  It’s excellent marketing,  described by the agency as:

“an idea that changed everything. It resonated with every constituent within the hospital, and effectively engaged people outside of the hospital. It’s proved to be such a powerful and driving force that it just may outlive us all.”

Check out another ad.  See the difference?

More “amazing stories” are on the hospital’s microsite.


Case study marketing for hospitals and health care providers can be an effective branding and positioning tool.  However, there are limits about what kind of story should be told.  NewYork-Presbyterian mostly demonstrates how to do it well, but a new TV commercial goes too far.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

One thought on “NY Hospital Goes Too Far with Case Study Marketing

  1. Couldn’t agree more with your assessment. Seems they started with the ‘kids or animals’ approach as a fail-safe (if certainly exploitative) way to get attention. The difference is, at the agency this is an engaging story and they move on once it’s executed. In reality, as you observed, it sort of collapses on itself: if they are too successful in engaging us with the personal story of this very sweet child, it makes the ending that much more tragic, which cannot be the feeling they want you to walk away with.


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