Eighty plastic mannequins laid in a tangled pile in a San Antonio restaurant one evening in August. The same week, at other locations across the city, seemingly healthy people lost movement on their left side, slurred their speech, and were helped by their companions. At each event, street teams passed out cards that read "Stroke Happens" and detailed the warning signs of stroke.
These slightly macabre scenes were part of an avant-garde Baptist Health System marketing campaign. The health system's marketers designed the attention-grabbing events to inform San Antonians that their city, which used to send stroke victims to Austin or other Texas cities for treatment, now had a Brain and Stroke Network center at each of Baptist Health's five area hospitals.
"As we began to plan our marketing effort, we knew that a big component needed to be education about what a stroke is, how to recognize the symptoms, and the urgency of seeking quick treatment," says Karen May, director of internal communications at Baptist Health. "Stroke is a serious health threat that the public does not understand as readily as they understand heart attack."
The marketing team quickly decided that it needed to "develop a promotional plan that would educate our community about stroke, using tactics and messages that were clear and bold," May says.
Working with a local production company, marketers gathered 80 mannequins—one for each San Antonian who dies of stroke each year—and dressed them in "Stroke Happens" T-shirts.
"People seemed genuinely shocked that the death rate for stroke was so high and asked questions about treatment," says Beverly Ingle, account supervisor at production company Guerra DeBerry Coody.
Baptist Health also hired actors to stage mock strokes to stress the importance of fast treatment. The companions who helped the faux victims were also actors. At the end of each demonstration, the performers handed out the "Stroke Happens" cards that featured the image of half of a brain fused with half of a clock, and the National Stroke Association's FAST acronym that explains the warning signs of stroke. Ingle says almost 500 cards were distributed during the weeklong campaign.
"The people who viewed the reenactments were genuinely concerned for the would-be stroke victims and offered their sympathy and support," she says. "At the end of the reenactments, those watching were relieved that the demonstration was an act."