Cleveland Clinic ‘unadorned facts’ ad campaign aims for distinct look

What started out as a national brand-building ad campaign for Cleveland Clinic has made its way into local markets and is still going strong nearly three years after it was launched.

The campaign — which features single-line drawings, bright colors and simple, direct text — is referred to by the Clinic as its “unadorned facts” campaign, Chief Marketing Officer Paul Matsen said.

“We needed something that talked about facts that are distinct to Cleveland Clinic, things that only come from us,” Matsen said. “We also wanted a look that was distinct from other healthcare providers.”

Matsen said much of hospital advertising has a “sameness” to it — think rote images of helpful and doting doctors and nurses, patient testimonials and the like. The distinctiveness of the line art, plus the short and sometimes light-hearted text was intended to set the ads apart from those of other hospitals.


For example, one ad features a drawing of a woman’s torso with a bikini and says, “Removing a kidney through a tiny incision in the belly button. Going out through an inny.” Another drawing focuses on a forearm bone and hand seemingly springing up from a plant stalk and is accompanied with the text, “We regrow bone. Yes, you read that right.”

The campaign was originally designed to build the Clinic’s brand and raise awareness of the hospital, which is looking to burnish its reputation as an elite care provider to draw in more lucrative out-of-state and international patients. Ads have appeared online, on billboards and in print in national publications like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and have spread to the Clinic’s local markets in Ohio and Florida.

“Nationally we’re one of the best-known healthcare brands in the country, but our [consumer] awareness lags behind several other hospitals and is lower than we want it to be,” said Matsen. “The goal was to boost people’s top-of-mind awareness of Cleveland Clinic.”

Matsen declined to get into specifics about how much the Clinic spent on the campaign. But the renowned hospital certainly isn’t alone in making a greater push into advertising. In the first six months of 2011, advertising by American hospitals, clinics and medical centers rose 20 percent to $717 million, the New York Times reported.

“The thrust by hospital providers to look at their advertising spending has been motivated by the fact that healthcare consumers have more options today than ever before,” said Jeffrey Nemetz, founder of Chicago-based healthcare marketing firm HBG Health.

In developing the ads, the Clinic and its agency, Washington, D.C.-based AdWorks (whose website features a handy “Agency Bullshit Translator”), emphasized short, direct statements and attention-grabbing colors. “In talking to prospective patients, we found we needed to keep it simple,” Matsen said.

Click-through rates on the campaign’s digital ads were two to three times higher than similar ads, and surveys have showed an increased consumer awareness of Cleveland Clinic as hospital patients would visit to manage complex diseases, Matsen said.

Nemetz and another healthcare marketer, Russ Allen of New York-based Empowered Medical Media, looked through some of the ads in the “unadorned facts” campaign at the request of MedCity News and liked what they saw.

“It’s striking because it’s visually simple and gets its point across in a thoughtful way,” said Allen. His only complaint was a minor one: The text in copies of the ads that he reviewed was small and would be challenging for an elderly person to read.

Nemetz said he liked how the ads combined an “artistic” and “sophisticated” look with an emphasis through the text component of Cleveland Clinic’s core strengths, such as its cardiology program.

“The ads don’t feel like traditional healthcare,” Nemetz said. “They’re designed to be a bit more provocative and stand apart from traditional healthcare advertising,” he said.

Nemetz added that one thing no one could ascertain from merely looking at copies of advertisements is how the experience the ads are intended to convey matches up with the experience a patient would have in interacting with any “access point” of the Clinic’s organization, such as visiting its website or calling for an appointment.

“The advertising has to align with all of the other touchpoints in which the patient has an experience of the brand,” Nemetz said.

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