Watching the Super Bowl last weekend made me think about marketing. My dad worked in advertising briefly when I was very young, and because of that, I grew up learning how to critique advertisements. He would point out an ad in a magazine, ask me what I thought about it and show me why it was particularly effective. I wasn’t as impressed with the Super Bowl commercials this year as I have been in the past — the M&M one always makes me smile and the Budweiser Clydesdale one is continually my favorite (this probably says a lot about me). This year, I liked Kia’s space babies but am definitely biased because of all of the animals in it. Mercedes was clever, and my friends all generally liked the Doritos and AXE ones.
I won’t bore you with my personal critique of Super Bowl commercials, though. The point is, while watching all of these ads, I started thinking about veterinary advertising, or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Join me on a little thought adventure to figure out why you never see advertisements for veterinarians. I’ll first put this in the context of medical advertising to make it easier to relate to.
It’s always seemed tacky to me to see doctors’ faces plastered on billboards and buses, and no matter how many times I hear a radio commercial for a laser eye surgeon, I’ve never been tempted to look him up. So, how do people find doctors? Most of the people I know either find them by word of mouth or through rating websites like Angie’s List and Consumer’s Checkbook. Sometimes, if I need to find a specialist, I’ll look at all of the doctors in my area who accept my insurance and then Google them to find out more about them. It’s possible that I’m just the wrong demographic for the cheesy billboards and posters, but I would say most people in my generation at least Google a doctor before going to him, especially if the doctor had not been referred to them by someone else.
So why don’t we trust the flashy advertisements? Maybe because there’s not enough real work put into them. I’ve learned (equally from my father and from Mad Men, so perhaps this lesson should be taken with a grain of salt) that good advertisements are driven by smart ideas and subtle messages. In order to create a stunningly effective advertisement, you probably need to pay people who understand the business and psychology of it all. Most of the medical advertisements I’ve seen look like every cent that went into the project was just to pay the photographer. So maybe the ads aren’t sophisticated enough for us to like them. Or, it could be a social phenomenon –— people like to form a rapport with their health professionals and feel personally cared for, and seeing their face on a bus every day could take away from that experience.
Now that we’ve talked about doctors, let’s move on to the next question: How do people find veterinarians? I would be willing to bet that people who care enough to bring their pets for regular vet visits search for veterinarians the exact same way they search for their own doctors — word of mouth or some kind of online review. That’s certainly how I searched for a veterinarian over winter break when I was staying with my parents and one of my kittens contracted conjunctivitis (the clinic I spent a lot of time at when I lived at home was recently bought out by a large corporation — a topic for another column some other time). None of my friends with pets were effusively positive about their veterinarians, so I Googled/Yelped/looked through Consumer’s Checkbook at all of the practices in the area trying to find one that “seemed” reliable to me.
So what does a vet (or any medical professional) have to do to “seem” reliable? I’ve been thinking about this not just because of the Super Bowl, but also because I’ve heard several times in the past year that when we graduate, if we want to get a job at a good practice, we have to show potential employers that we can bring in new clients. This can range from being certified in a special or different technique to being a part of an organization with many local contacts. Whichever way we prove we can do it, it will only be truly successful if the practice has a way to inform old clients of the new services we are providing and introduce new clients to the business. In my opinion (as a pet owner, vet student and Generation Yer), I think the best option is a professionally-made website with testimonials, detailed biographies of the staff and a comprehensive list of services offered.
This brings us to the main reason why I think television and other mass media advertisements don’t work for (human and animal) health professionals: People need to know more about their doctors than can fit into a minute time-slot or a piece of paper. After all, it should come as no surprise that people need a greater depth of knowledge about selecting doctors than Doritos (seriously, have you ever even thought of going to the Doritos website?).
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a second-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.