The Most Shocking Mammogram Advertisement Utah Has Ever Seen

by   |  May 29, 2014

Intermountain Healthcare LogoI was reading a business article when an ad caught my attention.   Ironically, the article I was reading was about how to avoid distractions at work.   Not only did this advertisement distract me from reading the work-related article; it led me to write a completely new and unrelated article!

The Company: Intermountain Healthcare

The advertisement was a mammogram call to action by Intermountain Healthcare (IHC), the biggest healthcare system in Utah and the Intermountain West at large.   They tend to advertise a lot on TV and billboards.   It remains inconclusive as to whether their advertising is a cause of their success or merely an effect of having cash to burn.

I used to be convinced that IHC was wasting its money, especially since they often advertise their emergency healthcare services.   My reasoning was if I had a medical emergency, I would go to the nearest hospital regardless of its brand.   I’ve heard other local marketing “experts” say the same thing, but that’s just us.

With healthcare costs being so expensive, is it wasteful to spend precious dollars on billboard and TV advertisements?

A friend of mine works in the communications department of Intermountain Healthcare.   I once asked him why the hospital chain advertises so much.   His reply was that it’s good for general public opinion and such.   His defense seemed reasonable, though not very compelling.

Having spent lots of time in hospitals myself, I could write volumes on how I think their systems could be more economically efficient.   But for the purposes of this article, I will focus on this one simple advertisement I saw this morning.

Mammogram Advertisements in General

Marketers have a heyday coming up with advertisements for breast-related tests and treatments.   “I Love Boobies” wristbands have been controversial and popular propaganda for promoting breast cancer awareness among teenagers and college students.   Some campaigns show “shocking” images of cancerous breasts and shirtless women who have undergone surgery for extensive mammary gland removal.

This Intermountain Healthcare advertisement does none of those things, and tactfully so.   Though breast implant surgery rates are high in the Deseret State, Utah culture largely frowns upon “shocking” images of female nudity.   However, the IHC ad does reveal an assumption about women that is rather controversial.

The Intermountain Healthcare Advertisement

A pink box appears and a manicured hand slides in from the bottom, instantly catching the viewer’s attention.   While staring at the intricate decal pattern, the image fades and gives way to the text, “A mammogram only takes half an hour.”   The contact information appears and the IHC logo slides in from the bottom in an elegant bracket-shape ornament.

Intermountain Mamogram Ad

The ad is a call for women to take time for their health screening.


The message of the ad is clear: if you have time to get a manicure, there’s no excuse for not getting a mammogram.   You should take as meticulous care of your health as you do your beauty.

But there is a rather controversial underlying message conveyed in th ad: that there are indeed women in Utah who care more about their beauty than their health.   The ad suggests the belief that not just some, but many women in Utah–even enough to merit an expensive advertisement–care more about their appearance than their health.   This may well be the most controversial mammogram advertisement that Utah has ever seen.

The ad is intentionally misleading at first in its display of the manicured hand.   The intention is to capture women’s attention with a pleasing aesthetic.

The hand is positioned in a way that the viewer herself might examine her own hand, inspecting the state of her nails.   However, there isn’t enough time for the viewer to consciously think, “Hmm, I’d like to get a manicure today,” before the mammogram message appears.   I think that is also appropriate, because I find guilt marketing to be the least effective and the most infuriating to customers.   Rather, it grabs the viewer’s attention and sends a clear message without insulting her intelligence or priorities.

As a woman who doesn’t take time for manicures, I probably don’t fit the expectation of this advertisement’s “target consumer”.   Part of it could be my age and life cycle; I work and I have small children, so painting my nails is the last thing on my mind.   It also has to do with personal interest.   I enjoy a manicure on occasion, but doing it on a regular basis seems like a waste of time and money to me.   Not to mention I have an extremely sensitive nose and I can’t stand the nail polish smell for very long.

Who are the women who paint their nails frequently?   It can be surmised that young women who don’t have children and older women who are empty nesters tend to have more time for such things.   My 22-year-old live-in au pair paints her nails all the time.   My empty-nester mom never misses a manicure appointment.   She does the nice, expensive gel kinds, too.   When I was little, however, I remember my mother always keeping her nails short and frequently unpolished, as I do.

Many of my mommy friends with young children don’t take time to get manicures.   However, there are a few who make it a distinct priority to escape the demands of motherhood for an hour to get their nails done.   It’s their way of “treating” themselves.

If older women get their nails done more often than younger women, then the image of the manicured hand is something they could identify with.   If the ad is purposely targeting older women, who tend to be more prone to developing breast cancer than younger women, then the image is indeed appropriate.

On one hand–oh! A pun!–I could take offense to this advertisement.   I could look at it and say, “Oh great.   One more reason to make women feel guilty for treating themsevles.”   Or I could say, “Not ALL women paint their nails, people!   Stop putting us in boxes like that!”

On the other hand–tee hee–the advertisement is very memorable and effective in communicating its message.   I don’t think it’s meant to be demeaning, even if it exposes some obvious gender stereotypes.   I get tired of seeing advertisements for women always in shades of pink.   However, this pink resembles the “breast cancer awareness pink”, so it’s appropriate.

Although I don’t paint my nails often, it does lead me to reflect on what my priorities are and if I’m taking proper care of my health.   In sum, I think it’s a great advertisement.   In fact, it’s among the best ones I have seen from Intermountain Healthcare.

What do YOU think?

Do you like the Intermountain Healthcare advertisement?   Do you think it’s effective?   Appropriate?   Insulting?   I love hearing your thoughts.   Leave your comments below!

More on: Branding, Health Products, Marketing
About the Author:

Mimi West is a consummate entrepreneur, brand and marketing expert. This retired opera singer and Founder of My Dream Teacher is now pursuing her MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Administration. You can follower her on Twitter: @MimiGuynnWest.
Publshed: May 29, 2014  | 
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