Marketing Messaging – Leading or Following?


As I was listening to the radio yesterday, I heard (yet another) health insurance company commercial. In this particular commercial, Jim’s “couch” is bemoaning the fact that he is lonely because Jim is out doing things like hiking or mountain climbing rather than sitting home with the couch.  This commercial sounded almost exactly like commercials that Kaiser Permanente have been running for years, so I was surprised when at the end it was actually a commercial for Aetna. I did a bit of research and found out that Aetna rolled out a new marketing campaign in June of 2013 with a marketing message of “What is your healthy?”  Kaiser Permanente has been running similar ad campaigns for years around “Thrive.”

My immediate take on the campaign was that Kaiser must be pretty successful with their upbeat commercials around healthy members, and it was worth it for Aetna to see if they could see similar success with a similar campaign. However, as a listener, I found Aetna to be a follower, and was turned off by both the commercial and the overall campaign. I credit the idea for that campaign to Kaiser. Kaiser has  since moved forward with their “Thrive” advertising, now focusing on unique benefits such as Kaiser’s comprehensive electronic health information system. According to Christine Page, PhD, senior vice president of marketing and internet services, “These ads demonstrate Kaiser Permanente’s role as a total health advocate, emphasizing our commitment to delivering the best quality care possible, so our members can excel in everything they choose to do.” Imagine that – focusing on your unique benefits.

There must be other marketing messages that would make successful campaigns for health insurance companies. With the Affordable Care Act now “live,” a potential campaign could be around how they help their members navigate the new regulations. Or, what about the fact that the main complaint around health insurance companies is how they maximize profits while denying claims for their “members.” How about a marketing message around the percentage of claims that are not denied? Or around how many of their “members” live through life threatening illnesses? There are plenty of original ideas out there for health insurance companies to grab rather than recycling marketing messages from other companies that have been around for years. The other interesting aspect of these commercials is that they are not tied to a specific benefit of the particular health insurance company, rendering them so generic that other companies can just keep utilizing the same message. Why does someone buy health insurance? If there is truly a health insurance company out there that will turn me into some sort of hardcore rock climber, sign me up.

Choosing the right marketing message for your product

Another industry where we have seen a variety of ad campaigns is the pharmaceutical industry – specifically the erectile dysfunction (ED) market. Pfizer’s Viagra, widely regarded as the “original” ED drug, was released in 1998. Since then, America has been subjected to numerous ED ads – on TV, radio, billboards, the internet…you name it. How about those original Viagra ads? Guys playing basketball, giving each other high 5’s? To this day, I haven’t figured out how guys playing basketball helps your sex life. Maybe this commercial is supposed to show you that it is ok? It can affect anybody? Hmmmm. As Viagra was the first and only ED drug on the market at the time, the ads worked well, the ED market grew quickly, and the pharmaceutical industry took notice.

By 2003, the ED market was a $3 billion a year market, and both Eli Lilly’s Cialis and GlaxoSmithKline’s Levitra were introduced. While Pfizer’s Viagra commercials at the time were men leaping for joy to the “We Are the Champions” song, the Cialis commercials focused on couples, and the fact that Cialis lasts for up to 36 hours. Levitra, interestingly enough, chose to market their drug by showing a guy successfully throw a football through a tire swing.  He made it!! Awesome. While the effects of Cialis last for up to 36 hours, both Viagra & Levitra last for four hours. “Will you be ready when the moment is right?” is the question asked by the Cialis commercials. Following the success of the Cialis ad campaigns, Viagra changed their focus from excited leaping guys to smiling (satisfied?) older couples. In 2013, Eli Lilly’s Cialis overtook Pfizer’s Viagra as the leading ED drug on the worldwide market, likely due to loss of the drug’s patent exclusivity in Europe and other countries.


While the ad campaigns for the ED drugs have slowed, when they are on TV or the radio, all of them now tend to focus on couples rather than sporting events or music videos. It doesn’t take a lot of guessing to figure out which messaging worked best.  Being first to market is a great way to get a boost in your sales. Choosing the right marketing message for your product is another way to help yourself.

Ad campaigns cost a lot of money to create and distribute. What makes your brand unique? What makes you special? When you choose to build ad campaigns that others in your industry have already created or used, there is no way for potential customers or members to learn what makes you different. Be unique, be creative, and be successful.

Remember these?

Viagra (circa 2005)


Cialis (circa 2007)


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