Over Easy: Dartmouth Health emerges from ‘The Journey’

For The Valley News
Published: 4/29/2022 11:41:05 PM
Modified: 4/29/2022 11:39:38 PM

I have noticed that the opinion pros at the Valley News are skeptical about the branding “journey” that has — presto, chango — given us Dartmouth Health.

Calling a shift in marketing strategy a “journey” is like putting itching powder on a journalist. (And why do medical facilities still stock itching powder, anyway?)

Journalists are both committed cynics and cockeyed optimists, a dichotomy that is, according to top mental health professionals, “driving them crazy.” They try to improve the world by exposing its flaws, which is a bumpy road to a better tomorrow.

Marketers, on the other hand, sell a fantasy in which everything is swell. Pharmacy ads on the nightly TV news are a case in point. Smiling happy people toss balls with beautiful golden retrievers, gaze at stunning sunsets or dance with friends even as they are:

■Managing inflammatory diseases

■Suffering from serious mental health concerns

■Potentially dying

■Less catastrophically, having to pee too often

Marketers make more money than journalists, which tells you something about the value of truth. Or am I being too cynical?

But back to Dartmouth Health. I do not know how much it spent on its journey, but I’m sure I could find an independent analyst who would say it was, to use a technical term, “a lot of dough.”

I could have done it for less.

I would have given a hometown discount, say, 50% off, for a campaign that might well accomplish whatever healthcare marketing campaigns accomplish. That they are caring? That they are competent? That they are caring and competent enough to have a snazzy new logo? It’s hard to say, really, which is the beauty of marketing. You never know if you paid too much.

But much we pay. According to a 2019 Reuters news service story, “Annual health care marketing surged from $17.7 billion in 1997 to at least $29.9 billion in 2016, driven by a rapid spike in spending on direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs. … Over this period, DTC spending climbed from $2.1 billion to $9.6 billion.”

This is why there is an outbreak of pharmaceutical commercials on the nightly news. Sometimes I watch and wonder why the TV humans facing disease and scary side effects look happier than me. I don’t want to be too graphic, but some years ago one mentioned “anal leakage.” And then there are the ones that slip in this: “And, in rare cases, serious or fatal bleeding.” I sometimes let out a little scream when I hear that, only half in jest.


As they always say, ask your doctor.

Just off the top of my head, my campaign would have recommended that the new hospital system name be HCC, Health Care Colossus. People respect an outfit that makes no apologies for crushing the competition.

Slogans are big and need the right touch.

“When we give you a 15-minute appointment, you’ll feel like it was even longer.” (Arrive 30 minutes prior, and feel free to stay in our ergonomically terrific waiting room a half-hour afterward. At HCC, that’s on the house.)

I would, of course, use social media to extend the brand.

My first idea, the TikToc Doc, is a natural. Dancing diagnoses could be personalized. A little music, a two-step, and then the reveal: “It’s benign.”

Is that genius or insanity? Whatever — it’s marketing.

Truth be told (there’s that word again), I may not fully understand the big picture in medical care and why the big must get bigger, unlike tumors. Doctors seem less happy these days as they type away while getting to know you, medical bills are mysterious and alarming and we all miss kindly Marcus Welby, M.D. If it weren’t for the actual caregivers, who are often terrific, accessing the system wouldn’t be much more satisfying than going to Jiffy Lube.

Until recently, I haven’t needed more than an annual checkup. I guess if I was going to design my ideal medical facility, it would be the Men’s Hospital for Guys Who’d Rather Not Be Here. Its motto would be: “Why go looking for trouble?”

This is a terrible idea, of course. Sort of like the 15-minute appointment. There must be a special place in hell for the creator of that one, behind the pitchforks and burning sulfur pits. That’s where administrators and insurance execs have their corner offices. (In case of medical emergency, I want it on the record that I was just kidding.)

In the end, we really are on a journey together, toward something like national health care, Walmart/Amazon Quali-Care or maybe Bankruptcy-for-All.

The marketers tell us this is for the best, and maybe they are right. I just want to avoid the side effects.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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