Up Front | Oct 2004

Dueling Campaigns

Squeezing in your LASIK message between Kerry and Bush soundbytes.

In case you haven't noticed, we're in the midst of a political battle between two presidential candidates whose campaigns will spend more combined advertising dollars than any other in history. Political pundits who track candidates' advertising expenses predict that over $2 billion in soft, hard, and every other kind of contribution will be spent in an effort to either gain or keep access to the keys of our country's most esteemed office address. Who says it doesn't pay to advertise?!

MORE EYES WATCHING
Needless to say, $2 billion is a ton of money to plunk down on an advertising campaign. And, just because it's October, don't expect the Republican or Democratic advertising machines to stop spending anytime soon. From the smallest radio stations in the important swing state of Ohio to the major TV networks in New York and Los Angeles, political advertising messages will eat up millions of dollars more in advertising availability, right up until the last precinct closes on November 11th.

If you were wondering what this year's political campaign has to do with your LASIK advertising or this particular column, here's your answer. This fall, television viewing, radio listening, and newspaper reading will all be up as both the presidential race and the situation in the Middle East continue to heat up. With such a close presidential race, more people will turn to these sources for information about the issues. Positioning your LASIK message in the midst of increased viewing, listening, and reading could pay off this fall.

GRABBING YOUR SHARE

Timing
Your challenge in advertising LASIK during this fall will be to squeeze in your message among the bombardment of political advertising in the news media. FCC law allows politicians to receive the lowest possible advertising rates from the media, so the usual excess inventory most media outlets offer will not be available to you and your competitors (colleagues) this fall. If you haven't already scheduled your next media campaign, expect to pay a premium when you do, and don't expect the same placement that you usually receive.

As I've mentioned in earlier articles, the best time to purchase advertising space for radio, television, and newspaper in 2004 was in November and December of 2003. By locking in your advertising schedule before the start of the new year, you receive the lowest possible rate. It's simply a case of supply and demand, and, in the last quarter of the year, there is an abundance of media time and space available for the following year (supply) and usually very little demand. The large advertising agencies understand this concept and always start their media negotiations for the following year in the third and fourth quarters of the current year. Therefore, have your marketing staff start negotiating your advertising campaigns for 2005 in late October and early November of this year.

For those of you who have not already planned your media schedules for the fall of 2004, here are some specific areas to consider when placing your advertising.

Radio
If you haven't tried news/talk radio in the past, try it now. These stations will gain a larger-than-usual listening audience in the upcoming months because of the election, so be sure to get your message on the most popular news/talk stations in your area. Try sponsoring the morning traffic and weather, but be prepared to pay a premium. Although morning and evening drive times are both good slots, spend the majority of your schedule on the morning drive. More people plan their day in the morning than they do on their way home from work, and your offices are usually closed by the time people get back in their cars for their evening commute.

Also, don't forget about sports talk radio. Listenership on these stations will increase this fall as baseball closes its season and college and professional football leagues open theirs. A great time to buy advertising time on these shows is Monday morning after a weekend of wins or losses.

Be aware, however, that the listenership on both news and sports talk programs is largely male. To target the female listener, advertise on adult contemporary, jazz, and top 40 radio stations. A great place to find young to middle-aged mothers is on the pop/rock stations that their kids force them to listen to on the way to school. For content, the top three issues to promote in your campaign are still technology, results, and affordable financing.

Television
Due to the closeness of the political race, cable news networks (CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc.) will enjoy higher-than-usual viewership this fall. If you've ever considered airing your refractive or cataract message on cable networks, now would be an excellent time to do so (if any inventory is still available). For best results, buy the 6:00 p.m.-to-midnight rotation for your commercials and hope for the best. Some of your commercials will run during prime time, and others will not. With enough inventory, your message will be seen. In addition to the news talk programs, the sports programs will also have increased viewership this fall. The NFL Sunday night game on ESPN is a great advertising spot to attract male viewers for a relatively low cost. For female cable viewership, programs such as “Sex in the City” and TNT specials are prime spots. If you plan to air your TV commercials on the major network affiliates (CBS, NBC, ABC), again, be prepared for less inventory and higher costs. The most effective and affordable times on these stations continue to be in the morning from 6- to 7-o'clock and in the evening just after the late news. A few LASIK practices are also experiencing success with airing their commercials on specific programs such as ABC's “Extreme Makeover” and FOX's “The Swan,” where viewership among young professionals is extraordinarily high. A good strategy for specific programming is simply to air your commercial during a particular program one time per week. You might target two or three programs for the week, a schedule that would give you substantial exposure to the major television audiences. If you're targeting male viewership with your cable campaign, you'll attract a more female-oriented audience on these types of programs.

Newspaper
Readership in the daily newspapers will increase as the election nears. Target your print ads in the main news section for maximum exposure, because no other section in the newspaper has as much total readership. Ads running in the sports section will obviously target men, and those in the lifestyle, today, or weekend sections typically have a larger female readership. To get your ad placed at the top of the page, measure other ads in the newspaper that have good placement (above the fold, right page, right side) and design your ads to be the same size. Quarter- and half-page ads typically appear on the bottom of the page. The smaller the ad, the higher it is stacked on the page to make it more visually appealing to the reader. Think of a pyramid when designing your ad. If your ad is too horizontal, chances are good that it will appear at the bottom of the page. For creativity, your headline should be easy to read and promote the largest single benefit of the offer. If you want to promote the results of customized LASIK, put it boldly in your headline. If you want to advertise 18 months of no-interest financing (which continues to generate inquiries), don't hide it in small type at the bottom of the ad; shout it in the headline! If the safety of Intralase (Intralase Corp., Irvine, CA) is what you're touting, then shout that as well. Keep copy to a minimum and include your practice's phone number and e-mail address.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
With all of the recent (and upcoming) breakthroughs in implant technology, expanded ranges of approval for customized LASIK, and enhanced flap-making potential, there has never been a better time to be either a refractive or cataract surgeon or a patient. The media has fallen back in love with our industry (because results have improved), and the public's interest continues to rise.

While all eyes and ears are on the presidential election this fall, don't be timid about advertising your practice. Become a part of the $2 billion advertising wave that is rolling through this county, and make your message strong and bold. It's my guess that your results will be somewhat more predictable than those of the presidential race.

Michael W. Malley is President and Founder of the Centre for Refractive Marketing (CRM Group), an ophthalmic consulting/advertising agency established in 1988. Mr. Malley may be reached at (713) 839-0202; mike@refractivemarketing.com.
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