"Ads where physicians appear to be endorsing commercial products may then call into question the motives of the physician when making a specific recommendation for treatment," Dunlop says. "In this case, is the physician recommending the Da Vinci because of a relationship with Intuitive or because it is the best course of treatment? Is the physician being compensated by Da Vinci for the endorsement? It is a slippery slope."
And though the fine print states that the hospital and its staff were not compensated for appearing in the advertisement, the fact that even one of the physicians had a previous financial relationship with Intuitive is enough to give the general public cause for concern.
So where does U of I, or any organization facing ethical criticism, go from here? Well, that depends on the strength of its brand foundation. An esteemed organization like the U of I "has a great deal of equity and trust built up with its brand constituents," Dunlop says.
"My belief is that this won't seriously erode that trust. This was an example of extremely bad judgment by a small group of physicians who have an existing relationship with the vendor they promoted," he says. "Without a doubt, the university will work swiftly to more clearly define the ways in which it handles relationships with commercial entities, to avoid any perception of undue influence upon its medical decision-making."