Can you write a healthcare ad without using the seven “deadly” words?

Can you write a healthcare ad without using the seven “deadly” words?

George Carlin will always be remembered as an original with many great comedic acts, but his “seven deadly words” bit (what you can’t say on network television, back then…) is a classic. Under this theme, branding expert Paul Szablowski (former Senior V.P., Brand Engagement of Texas Health Resources, CHW, etc.) and I teamed up on an article of a similar title for a popular healthcare marketing publication. It’s been about ten years since it was published, but that article generated more talk value than any I’ve received since.

The article was about the seven “deadly” words you shouldn’t use in hospital advertising because they make little sense to consumers and are non-differentiating for the brand. After attending a recent healthcare advertising trade show and competition, I am prompted to again write about these words and why hospital marketers should not be using them. Because I heard a lot of them! Okay, here’s the list:

  • Interdisciplinary – Ask ten consumers on the street what this means to them and their health and you’ll quickly understand why it’s a waste of space and benefit. Other like words that don’t officially make the list, but should, include continuum, integrated, and coordinated.
  • World-class – technically two words, but often used as one thought in healthcare. After a decade, there is still no need nor regulatory act to substantiate such claims and as a result even a two-bed hospital in you know where, can claim to be “world class.” By the way, in case you’re looking to be less global and more local, “nationally-recognized” doesn’t do it, either.
  • Quality – okay healthcare folks, it’s a cost of entry for your organization. Sort of like the word “trust” – if you have to say it, you probably aren’t. Good copy line, but not fit for a strong tagline or headline.
  • State-of-the-Art – similar to “world-class” in that it is often used as one thought in advertising. In this industry, as soon as you say it, you’re out-of-date.
  • Care – See “quality.” That’s like a food brand talking about tasting good. At least use a unique adjective to describe your care.
  • Close-to-home – another multi-word, single thought phrase often used by hospitals. Study after study reveals that being convenient is not a primary selection factor for certain kinds of specialty care beyond ER and primary care.
  • Compassion – See “care,” see “quality,” see just about every hospital in the country.

Back in the early days of hospital advertising, and most likely at a similar time as George Carlin’s original rant (1972), these words and phrases were common because the marketing discipline in the industry wasn’t. Amazingly, they are still being used today in a more sophisticated industry of brand development and differentiation.

Go ahead and write your next headline or tagline. See if you can avoid these words. If so, you’re using terms and phrases that are more unique to your brand and the customer experience. This is such an important strategy in today’s keyword society. If you find yourself relying on these deadly words, kill them before they do the same to your brand.

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