Truth in Advertising

I propose that we take the well-known expression “truth in advertising” and give it a new and expansive meaning for the brave new world of healthcare, of which we are all a part.

The term was first created by the Federal Government to name a set of laws protecting the consumer against false and/or harmful claims by advertisers. Reading its published definition (for the first time, I might add), I can summarize its specific definition and current meaning quite simply – “don’t lie.”

“Don’t lie” is a very low bar to rise above. What then could the phrase mean in the healthcare world?

I propose that it take on the meaning of a deep and highly empathic understanding of and service to the individuals to whom and for whom we communicate – patients, family/caregivers, physicians and other healthcare providers and the organizations that deliver and pay for healthcare. I propose that the truth in “truth in advertising” evolve from  “don’t lie” to the worthy goal of being true and responsive to the needs of people who seek to promote mental and physical health and/or who seek to cure and manage illness for themselves and for others.

We are in a time when we can know and understand more about the individuals we serve than ever before.  We can reach out and communicate to more people in more ways than was even imaginable a few years ago based on new technology. We can help patients and families navigate the shoals of healthcare “delivery” in new ways, and we have a mandate to do so (it is not an accident of language that a major industry inflection point is represented by accountable care organizations). And, we are in an environment that has brought these considerations to the forefront of what innovation, service, and commercial survival will mean.

So, how do we create new meaning for “truth in advertising”?  I believe we can reduce this important aspiration to two steps:

Step One: Look inside. Think about your own experiences with illness – personal, loved ones, friends. Think about the multitude of emotions these experiences evoke (fear, anger, panic, confusion, fatigue, redemptive/therapeutic humor, sadness, hope, joy, triumph). Remind yourself that these emotions constitute the drama (yes, drama) that the participants in healthcare are either experiencing or attempting to mitigate and heal. Be humbled by the power and complexity of these needs.

Step Two: Ask yourself every day whether you are attempting to be true to these realities when you go about your daily work—whatever part of our industry you participate in.  Ask yourself if your thinking and energy are focused on the drama of the people to whom we communicate. Ask yourself if you are working toward a communication or plan that is worthy of the depth and dimension of the experiences about which we spoke.

These two questions and intentions are a good start. If practiced, they can go a long way to helping create new language and a new standard for true and meaningful work.

It’s time.

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2 Comments

  1. Uram Joshua Lee
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Joe, you make a great point with “Step 1.” Nothing is as genuine as unmitigated emotion, as obvious as it sounds. I think this mentality needs to start at the companies that we advertisers represent. It’s hard to be a middle man and be a catalyst for new behavior because we’re not on either ends of the track.

  2. Joe Gattuso
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Josh: Agreed, and this is always the tension that we face everyday — to do the best and truest work we can in an environment that may or may not share the same values or philosophy or awareness. It’s sometimes a process of negotiation, sometimes of navigation and sometimes a process of just sheer will.