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What’s wrong with this picture?

Most health and medical marketing is fairly generic. Another way of saying this is that the stories most healthcare industry marketing tells… aren’t stories.

The un-story ultimately has no problem. The poster child for this kind of one-note narrative is pharmaceutical ads. The underlying condition the drug is trying to fix is mentioned. We’re not generally shown, however, the problems of living with that condition. We might be shown someone not enjoying everyday life, then enjoying life after using this particular drug. It might be that we only see images of people enjoying life, the assumption being that life is good when this particular brand of drug is used.

In other words, the problem that’s being presented is disconnected and substituted for a more immediate or palatable one.

This weird genre has become so familiar to US audiences, the food delivery company Postmates perfectly parodied everything about a drug ad: the music, the soothing voiceover, the rhythms of the camera cuts, the non-threatening physical activities, the platitudes, the racially diverse middle-aged couples, all the way down to the carefully-hedged, positive “there may be a way to help”:

Some healthcare ads do present problems. Sometimes, it’s the middle that’s missing. There’s one striking example from the beginning of the pandemic from Blue Cross of California called “Tough”. The ad is split into two sections, colored differently as a soulful piano arrangement of “California Dreamin'” plays. The first section is all the difficulties healthcare providers face, the second section is positive attributes and identities of healthcare staff. There’s only implied connections between the two when the end text, “The fight is tough, but so are you” is displayed:

If healthcare industries as a whole can be faulted for gaps in their storytelling, it’s certainly understandable. The biggest-scale healthcare story is this: “You’re having health issues. We’re the experts who can figure it out. Come see us and become healthy.” This is not a narrative that lends itself to commentary about what’s wrong with some healthcare delivery or even revelations about illness itself. The focus is always the end of the story: get well, be happy, go hike in the mountains with a smile, or get back to gardening with ease.

It is almost shocking that something would buck this grand narrative.

I don’t know anything about the company Forward (aside from what their marketing wants me to know). The title of their ad campaign, though, is arresting: “Healthcare is backwards”.

Here, at last, is something like a complete story: A person wants to see a physician. There are bizarre, incomprehensible communications from staff and providers alike. Because this is an ad, Forward offers themselves as the solution to wait times and impersonal care.

Merits or drawbacks of this particular company aside, patients are having stories told back to them that they’re very familiar with:

If you’re wondering (because I was), yes of course, the internet has figured out what the receptionist and physician were saying:

Featured image: “Mujeres” by Flickr user Universallyspeaking, used under a CC BY 2.0 license