Doctor smiling and talking on phone

Why Don’t Doctors Need Super Bowl Commercials?

Doctor smiling and talking on phone

If you’re wondering why my blog post for the week is late or why I didn’t write about Super Bowl ads, the plain truth is that I have pneumonia and decided to take care of myself first. And, full disclosure, sometimes the fever associated with consumerism and Super Bowl commercial madness makes me sick too, so I didn’t watch the game or the ads this year.

This juxtaposition between all the doctors’ offices I’ve been in lately and the super-hype over the Super Bowl ads has me thinking.

How do doctors get customers without marketing and what can businesses and marketers learn from them?

Word-of-mouth advertising

Basically doctors get patients through old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising. How did you find your doctor? Most likely, a friend or family member recommended the doctor to you.

Yes, a doctor’s practice is much different than a retail store or other business. But one concept is the same. It’s the reason doctors and small local businesses don’t need to spend $3.7 million for a spot during the Super Bowl.

What’s the reason? Why does word-of-mouth marketing work for doctors so well?


I’ve had the same primary doctor for almost 20 years. I have to drive almost 45 minutes to get to her, and I dread the day that she retires.

Why? Because we have a fantastic relationship. I trust her as a doctor and a person who has my best interest at heart. She trusts me as a patient. Her reputation—or her brand—can be summed up as smart, trustworthy, reliable and caring. Everything you’d want in a doctor.

Now think, is there a store or a business you’ve been going to and exclusively relied on for 20 years? 10 years? 5 years even?

I’m guessing most people might be able to answer “hairdresser” to that question…if you’re lucky. And if you’re really lucky, maybe one or two more businesses, most likely small, local ones.

I went shopping with a friend of mine not too long ago to Bloomingdale’s. It’s a place where I never shop, yet my friend returns there regularly. One of the things she kept saying was, “I wish Sheila was here. I wish Sheila was here.” (Okay, the name wasn’t Sheila, but I can’t remember it. Not important.)

The point is, my friend gets a consistently great shopping experience at that particular Bloomingdale’s from that one salesperson, who has come to know her likes and dislikes and makes her shopping more efficient and pleasant. And, if I decide to start shopping at Bloomingdale’s, I’m going to ask my friend what that salesperson’s name actually is and then go find her.

Why do big brands and even medium-sized brands need to spend millions on Super Bowl ads and regular TV advertising? Because they’re not good at building relationships with their customers. They just want to sell products.

And yeah, if you sell a fantastic product, that will get you good word-of-mouth advertising too. But unless you’re Apple and all your products are that good, you’ll still need to keep spending big bucks on those TV ads.

Don’t believe me? Then answer this question—how did Zappos build such a great business?

I’ll give you a hint. The word you’re looking for starts with an “R” and rhymes with “She hates her hips.” Zappos built their brand on it. You can too.



  1. Ryan J. Gerardi (@autoconversion) · February 8, 2012

    Yes so true right. Nothing really beats word of mouth. I would say however this applies primarily with service-based businesses b\c service providers do not need mass sales like retail products do. Service providers just need regular business.

    • ctmarcom · February 8, 2012

      Definitely doctors are a different type of business, and I’m not suggesting all companies could stop advertising on TV. But I do think product-oriented businesses would benefit greatly from focusing more on relationships (and might be able to reduce their advertising spend). Zappos is one example. Nordstrom’s is another–they are in the business of selling products, but customers go there for the service too. The car business is more difficult because customers don’t purchase so often, but if a car dealer builds a relationship with its customers, those customers are more likely to bring their car there for service and buy their next car there as well.

  2. Liam Dempsey · February 14, 2012

    Having worked with at least a couple of doctors on growing their web presence, I have noticed a trend of physicians doing more to increase their visibility — their marketing presence — online. Part of that is surely in response to sites like, but I think it also reflects an overall change in the medical/health industry. Just as pharmaceutical companies now advertise and market their products directly to consumers, so too do doctors look to take a more proactive approach when looking to grow their respective practices.

    • ctmarcom · February 14, 2012

      I think you’re right, Liam–it reflects an overall change in the medical/health industry. With health insurance companies restricting their networks more and more and creating these exclusivity deals with certain providers, doctors are being forced to advertise for more customers as these networks force patients to go with the doctor the insurance company has the cheaper deal with. Also, more doctors are finding the need for websites to serve their own patients easier, so the natural progression is to also use that web presence to entice new patients as well.

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