In Chicago, we have a set of billboards that probably 99.9% of our inhabitants recognize. On them, former Chicago Bear football player Brian Urlacher flaunts his full head of hair, which he supposedly got thanks to a hair regrowth system called Restore.
The billboards are simple — but genius. Most of them are just larger-than-life close-ups of Urlacher and a quote like “Breaking Bald,” “Hair-lacher,” or “It’s Grow Time!”
I mean, seriously. If they weren’t so effective, I’d say they’re ridiculous. But they’re memorable, and the company has a waiting list longer than ever for procedures that bring in around $10,000 on average.
While the Urlacher-Restore partnership has flourished in the billboard industry, that’s not necessarily a guarantee they’re always an effective form of advertisement. And that also doesn’t mean they align with a hospital’s marketing goals.
Billboards can be seen as somewhat dated — and they may go ignored by potential patients.
With online ads at an all-time high, billboards are a big question mark for many hospitals. But while they may seem outdated at first, billboards can also have a certain charm and effectiveness that electronic forms of advertisement lack.
Here’s a look at hospital billboard advertising — and whether it’s old school or still cool.
An Overview Of The Billboard
Billboards date way back to the Egyptians, who publicized their laws and treaties on tall stone obelisks.
Fast forward a few thousand years, and you get the traditional billboard, which is kind of like a really big poster on the side of the road. Americans have been taking advantage of roadside advertising since the 1830s, when they often displayed the ongoings of the circus.
Over the years, there have been plenty of changes, from size restrictions to flashy digitization. For example, some hospitals are now posting live wait times on billboards to display their efficiency (which competing hospitals are snarkily reacting to by posting statements like “We’re more than just fast”).
Part of the reason these advertisements became so popular is that they’re pretty hard to ignore. This is because Americans drive — a lot. We’re fans of the vehicle and always have been. And what else is there to do on the boring old highway other than check out the billboards?
The average American spends about 51 minutes driving each day, often covering over 30 miles.
In 2016 and 2017 alone, Americans collectively made 183 billion trips and drove 2.6 trillion miles — a number that’s up from 2014 and 2015.
Not only do Americans spend a lot of time in their cars, but they also notice billboards when they have the time to think about the roadside ads they see. Over two-thirds of Americans make their shopping decisions while they’re — you guessed it — in the car.
That’s a lot of Americans — and potential patients — with the time to think about the hospital they trust with their health and livelihood. What’s more, it seems like billboards are effective in bringing the big bucks.
Apple, the top billboard advertising company, is among the many tech companies that choose to advertise on billboards. And I think we can agree that they’re pretty successful. In fact, In December 2019, Apple topped all public companies with its worth of $1.3 trillion.
But Are Billboards Safe?
It might seem obvious that billboards could distract drivers and lead to more accidents. But surprisingly, the jury is out. Some say that they are distracting and dangerous, while others say they are mildly distracting but not really that dangerous. There was even a recent Australian study that says billboards are actually improving driving — potentially reducing lane drifting (apparently because the billboards catch drivers’ eyes, forcing them to look at the road instead of the radios or their phones).
The Hospital Billboard: Effective Or Cheesy?
The history and usage of billboards is one thing — but the question still remains if hospitals should be using them for their marketing campaigns. How might they potentially bring in new patients? And how might they falter in that very same goal?
To decide that, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of billboard advertising, which include:
- On busy streets, they’re the center of attention during traffic jams (which are stable or increasing in 75% of cities worldwide). If your hospital’s billboard is in an urban area, that’s a lot of potential patients’ eyes on your advertisement.
- They’re visually-oriented — and 65% of humans learn and remember best through visual communication. As a result, potential patients may remember your hospital’s billboard when they’re searching for healthcare.
- They can reach a much broader audience base than other forms of advertising (for example, viewers don’t need to have internet access to see a billboard). This may help your hospital reach disadvantaged populations — and bring in otherwise inaccessible patients.
- They allow your hospital’s marketing to be geographically-targeted to one specific area, such as near the exit to your hospital.
- They are usually cheaper than other forms of advertising (starting at $250 a month in rural areas).
Some cons of billboards include:
- They’re not a targeted form of advertising, meaning you can’t alter the advertisement to cater to a specific audience based on age, health condition, or other targets.
- They are usually rented on a month-to-month basis, which can become costly over time.
- The message can get monotonous for people who see the billboard day in and day out (hello Brian Urlacher billboards) — and you can’t update them frequently based on trending healthcare topics.
- They’re prone to weather-damage, considering they’re tall and generally unprotected.
- They’ve been banned in a few states, including Vermont, Maine, Hawaii, and Alaska, partially due to visual pollution (a disturbance of the natural scenery).
Just like any other form of advertising, hospital billboards have some draws — and some drawbacks. In order for them to be effective, they require a purposeful marketing strategy, including a well-thought-out location, a memorable message, and maybe a new ad every once in a while.
Perhaps the best thing about hospital billboards is that they’re unavoidable. If a potential patient is driving on the highway, their eyes will (hopefully) be open. They may only notice your hospital’s billboard for a moment — but that’s all it takes to bring in a new patient.