Getting the message out on a health care topic when all you have is sound/voice is a challenge. But the success of radio, podcasts, and auditory books shows that there must be value. Beyond convenience (being able to listen when you are in a car or running/exercising) there are clear benefits of constraint that force the messenger to be focused. Thus, it’s a great place to start if the goal is to understand how to be effective in conveying a health care message.

In my search for health care related messaging that only use sound, branding seems to be most common purpose. I’d like to say “here are some great ads related to health“, but mostly I found bad ones. Almost all would benefit from a better understanding of the value of narrative and storytelling. They are often prescriptive and focus too much on telling the listener what to think.

I found many like the Marian Health Care ad which promotes their health care training to potential patients. The emotional goal was to make me feel that this is a great place to get training. The call to action is to apply today and they provide a URL where you can do so. The goal is to have the listener recognize that this organization provides better training and thus starts a path toward better health care training. I would describe the ad as the usual voice over “we’re good” ad which is mostly meaningless other than to repeat the name of the advertiser over and over so that you recognize the name. But other than that there doesn’t seem to be much purpose. I don’t see it as very effective.

A typical political ad targets voters who are likely conservative/Republican while remaining rather neutral and broadly appealing. It has no narrative, no story. The emotional appeal is to target dislike of big government and draw one towards a candidate who will get rid of government (healthcare) yet retain medicare (presumably to keep older people happy). A typical authoritative voice attempts to convince me this name is attached to something useful. Not very easy to understand, enjoyable, or entertaining. There is no call to action beyond the implicit “vote for me.” But perhaps this is an “informational” ad and thus the author cannot say “vote for me.” If the listener has similar values, then the potential value of taking action (e.g., voting for him) would be having a smaller government while keeping Medicare intact.

A 45 second radio ad for Viagra targeting men with impotence includes mostly sung lyrics and then a tag line at the end to explain why you are listening to that music. The music is quite emotional and expresses frustration and a sense of loss. The use of music seems effective until you realize that this is radio. How many people start listening because they think it is song and then get the advertisement which directly connects with the song (versus there being a pause)? The content of the voiceover at the end isn’t especially innovative. It ends with “this is the age to take action.” Presumably, the action is to talk to your doctor about getting Viagra but the ad doesn’t say that. One would infer the goal of any action and proposed value is to address the erectile dysfunction problem highlighted in the music.

Hospital promotion such as the Rhode Island Hospital radio ad targets people searching for a hospital or health care system. The goal is to make one feel that this hospital is state of the art and will take excellent care of me. This version mostly says “people come to our hospital for help, we have great resources.” Apparently those great resources are the value they provide. It goes on with the theme that we are great with little evidence or emotional impact. There is no call to action. It seems unlikely to get someone to choose this hospital over another since I would assume any hospital would say the same thing.

Health messages delivered via radio are probably more amenable to stories, as seen with the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. Here, a teen is thanking someone referring her to a teen health promotion program aimed at Latino teens. The target market is broader and includes anyone who might refer a Latino teen. The ad continues to explain the program. The call to action is to call a number or visit a website. Both go by pretty quickly. I doubt folks would remember them without the ability to pause. The value is better health and decision making by Latino teens. The reason for pursuing it is related to the thank you from a teen highlighted in the beginning story of the ad.

It is clearly difficult to create an effective radio ad related to healthcare. A successful ad needs to be unique, memorable, and contain a clear call to action. Only then can a health-related product or service be effectively marketed.