It’s Not Your Usual Hospital Advertising Target Audience. So What is Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Ad Campaign Up To?

As published in, by Peter Hochstein

Excerpts of article’s key points.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute treats 22,000 new patients every year and sees a total of about 76,500 patients annually, mostly on an outpatient basis. The advertising, more science-oriented than most of the hospital advertising you’ll see in general consumer media, talks about Dana-Farber’s role in discovering PD-L1, a protein that blocks the immune system from attacking cancer cells — which led to the subsequent growth of immunotherapy in treating cancer around the world.

“More than most academic medical centers, we have a very large research enterprise as well,” says Steven Singer, Dana-Farber’s senior vice president for communications. He added a bit later in the conversation, “Brand recognition and brand strength are the wind at our backs for all that we do. We think it will help to lead to more partnerships and collaborations all around the country. And it will help us recruit the best faculty and staff.”

The advertising is “trying to actively engage people who pay attention to the kinds of things we do,” says Singer. According to Donna Lee Ubertalli, Dana-Farber’s vice president of marketing, to reach these folks, the hospital works with “a fairly small budget.” (The specific amount is also proprietary.) Because of the small budget, she says, the media where the advertising appears is “highly targeted toward people interested in health care, biomedical research, public affairs, that sort of thing.”

“We knew that for our audience in particular, a formulaic doctor in a lab coat wasn’t going to break through,” says Andy Semons, founder and strategic planning partner of IPNY, the “brand positioning and messaging company” in New York City that created the advertising. “We needed to take a risk. We needed to say things a little bit differently. We found a narrative style where it was all the same story, but we had different people pick up where the other left off. It was that technique, plus a very tight narrative and really well-written copy that kind of made it sing in this case.”

Print ads also appear in newspapers where readers “go to get information,” says Ubertalli. “Like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” Singer says. The advertising can also be heard during some “very focused podcasts” that Ubertalli says are targeted to the same audience as the broadcast and print advertising.

The campaign, which launched late in October 2019, is scheduled to run at least until the spring of 2020. The Dana-Farber marketing people have already done a benchmark attitude and awareness study, says Ubertalli, but results were not expected until well after this story’s deadline date. But Ubertalli says, “What we’re seeing is our web traffic has been increasing in these areas, so the signs are positive.”