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Powerful Cancer Ad Omits Some Key Details

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, May 28, 2014

An old healthcare marketing ethical dilemma is re-triggered by a three-year-old ad making the rounds on social media and spread by media organizations who are asking too few questions about it.


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>>>View Children's Cancer Center Ad

Since the 1960s advertising boom on Madison Avenue, companies, consumers, the government, and the Don Drapers of the world have been trying to find common ground when it comes to ethics.

Just this month, athletic company Vibram settled a $3.75 million class action lawsuit over false claims that its minimalist Fivefingers running shoes yielded health benefits. The plaintiff alleged that the Vibram used deceptive marketing tactics and falsely advertised that the shoes would strengthen muscles in the feet and legs, among other claims. And though the company denies those allegations, it's paying up.

The Fivefingers case is an example of how the ethical rules governing marketing health benefits and healthcare products and services are still a bit fuzzy, even to top-ranking officials. (You may remember the uproar caused when University of Illinois physicians appeared in a sponsored da Vinci surgical robot ad in the New York Times back in March.)

Recently, an old healthcare marketing ethical dilemma was re-triggered by an ad that keeps popping up in my Twitter newsfeed. A powerful ad released by the University of Mississippi Health Care Children's Cancer Center three years ago periodically resurfaces via social media.

The "My Life is Proof" campaign ad depicts the before and after shots of a young cancer patient named Noah. The ad's arresting graphic image is a split-screen of the patient's face, showing the sick four-year-old Noah on the left, and the healthy seven-year-old Noah on the right. It is visually striking and the juxtaposition of the two halves draws the eye to the text to read more.

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