Lessons From A Visit To 'The Other America'

Imagine an America in which federal and state governments paid for aggressive advertising of a pharmaceutical intervention complete with hyperactive Facebook and Twitter programs. Now visualize the entire medical community and tens of millions of consumers in complete harmony with the effort.

Finally, picture a healthcare community that has found creative ways to fit these treatments into the schedules of busy Americans. How well would it work?

All of this happened in 2009 to promote H1N1 awareness, vaccination and treatment with Tamiflu. Many of us in the industry don't talk about this because it happened in our version of "The Other America" -- public health programs. was a bold and multidimensional program driven by a group with the catchy name: "The Health and Human Services (HHS) Interagency Public Affairs Group on Influenza Preparedness and Response." This is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services many of us don't know much about because we are typically very focused on the Food and Drug Administration.



I cannot imagine a better way to modernize the FDA's important mission than to look at what we have learned from other parts of HHS where chances are taken, investments are made and lessons are freely available. You can read about here.

The greatest success in this campaign came from an explicit acknowledgement that health is a consumer good in the economic sense. The goods that are consumed meet the needs of the consumer on their terms and have the right blend of communicated value and convenience. Messages and service delivery must fit into the lives of busy Americans and make the case for action. If this is followed by innovations in care delivery, it is more likely that consumers will engage.

Here are a few lessons from this effort:

1) Broad social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter must not only be integrated into the campaign, but valued for the role they play in influencing the influential. People expect questions to be asked and answered quickly in these places. A quick scroll through shows a team working hard to debunk myths and misunderstandings about vaccine safety.

Here you'll find a dozen recent posts like "NPR Health Blog: New Harvard study reveals America's attitude toward flu vaccine. #H1N1"or "WHO Updates International #H1N1 Flu Situation." These platforms aggregate and distribute data that information brokers and advocates need to do their work. Consumer health marketers often forget that beyond individual consumers making personal decisions about their own health, there are consumers who play a vital role in educating others about diseases and treatments.

2) Health works well when delivered in a "third place," as Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz described the goal for his cafes: to be a midpoint between home and work. At a recent presentation, Helena Foulkes, CMO of CVS Caremark Corporation, showed a map of all hospitals in the U.S. and then overlaid CVS store locations. Her point was that geographic accessibility to care is one of the greatest opportunities to improve healthcare: most Americans live within two miles of a retail outlet but more than ten miles from a hospital or clinic.

For the flu, that meant tens of thousands of flu promotions and high-visibility programs to help those who could not afford vaccination. How about drive-through care? The world's largest H1N1 immunization drive-through ran for two days in mid-November 2009. Approximately 20,000 people took advantage of a 10-lane drive-through vaccination clinic at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky., setting a Guinness World Record. Informal analysis revealed that earned media on radio and very high levels of social updates on Twitter, Facebook and influential health advocate bloggers created an ability to drive more awareness for such geo- and time-specific events.

Those of us who live in the America of highly regulated health marketing can learn something from this other America. I hope we see these two worlds converging because they both share the goal of making sure we all get the treatments we need, when we need them so we can have the best health outcomes individually and as a society.

6 comments about "Lessons From A Visit To 'The Other America'".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Amy Fanter from Odds On Promotions, March 19, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    This campaign worked so "well" in Reno, NV that they are now having to throw away all the excess vaccine that was never used. Thousands, and thousands of my tax dollars wasted ... and based on whats going on in congress now its only going to get worse.

  2. Ken Kueker from Billboard Connection, March 19, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.

    The last thing I want or need is the government shoving healthcare treatments down my throat. The government and most of the medical industry are mostly just mouthpieces for the drug manufacturers who generally put profit above the needs of anything else.

  3. Ted Smith from HealthCentral, March 20, 2010 at 8:17 a.m.

    I know it is hard to have a discussion about health and health marketing these days without hitting the third rail of which side of reform/takeover you are on. I'm not suggesting that government or industry be in charge of the healthcare agenda - just trying to throw light on the kinds of programs that have had success using media formats that have been unavailable to DTC marketers.

  4. Timothy Musgrove from TextDigger, Inc., March 20, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.

    Americans draw a line when there a universal, common threat to all, and do things they wouldn't under ordinary circumstances, e.g. cheerfully paying $4.50/gal for gas (in Calif. at least) for months after 9/11, or the donations pouring in for relief efforts post-Katrina, or the many things needed in thwarting H1N1. The cooperation between public and private sector organizations, which you depict, happens *only after* the public consciousness has unquestionably galvanized around a pressing issue. What hasn't been shown, is whether the public consciousness can do that in non-emergency situations, or that that the government and NGO's will coordinate as effectively absent a public united behind a cause of obvious necessity.

  5. Ted Smith from HealthCentral, March 22, 2010 at 8:37 a.m.

    Tim, your thoughts are insightful as always. Your comparison to 9/11 highlights the trade-offs we talk so much about these days - our liberties and our safety/security. In health, there has always been a strong focus on our safety which is most true in the regulations and rules surrounding prescription medications. You can think of this as a protective bias to not use a treatment until we know a lot about its safety and efficacy. Over in Public Health land, there is a long list of health concerns and treatments from prenatal care, to smoking cessation, to vaccines that either by virtue of the science behind them or the larger calculus of impact on society, gain entry to the media markets in very different ways - often more innovative ways. My appeal is for us to look at more of these activities for the lessons they offer when bolder experimentation is allowed and encouraged.

  6. Steve Swenson, March 23, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.

    Excellent summary of the effort to promote the H1N1 vaccine.

    One thing to keep in mind. If this campaign was run by a private corporation, the company would be bankrupt due to too much marketing spending, late product delivery, and expiring excess inventory.

    By the time vaccines were available, the virus had already gone through my family. Based on comments to this article, my experience was common.

Next story loading loading..