Last night, David Cameron and Ed Miliband – the front-runners in the upcoming general election – took part in a set-piece event, answering pantomime questions from Jeremy Paxman and rather more sober posers from a studio audience. Unsurprisingly, the subject of the NHS cropped up, specifically the involvement of the private sector in the organisation. Whether you consider it a good idea or not, it seems private companies are sure to have a hand in our treatment, whichever party succeeds. And what could possibly go wrong? Just look how affordable and reliable the railways have been since they were privatised.
Of course, free-market principles insist every profit-making opportunity is explored, and I’m sure those parties interested in a slice of the NHS pie are already considering ways to introduce innovative advertising techniques to medicine.
Ever keen to back the great British entrepreneur, here’s a few of my ideas they may wish to add to the mix …
The pre-decorated cast
When I was a kid, breaking a limb brought notable benefits. Most importantly, you were signed off all school sports for weeks, even months. As taking part in team games is akin to a living hell, this came as sweet relief indeed. There was also the joy of wearing a ‘canvas’. That pot on your arm or leg was the ideal home for scribbled rude words and anatomically incorrect dirty drawings – all provided by friends and their multi-coloured fibre-tipped pens.
But why hand all that fun to the patient’s mates when there’s marketing budgets to spend? Instead, I suggest those plaster pots are offered as media space. Corporate clients would be invited to print their logo and strapline on the cast in return for a hefty fee. Naturally, this would be varnished over to prevent the injured party adding their nonsense, risking damage to the client’s brand. Moreover, with free sweets, the wearer could be incentivised to keep the branded cast on longer than necessary.
Annoyingly, vital surgery is an expensive business. There’s all those green overalls to buy and wash, a trolley load of very sharp tools to keep vaguely clean, some big old spotlights to fund. Apparently the surgical staff want paying too.
Strange then, that nobody has taken the obvious step of asking multi-national companies to foot some of the bill. They’ll want something in return, that’s only fair. So, I reckon we could create a sponsorship deal. For a few grand, a burger chain would be permitted to emblazon their corporate colours on that big sheet with a hole in it, under which the patient is covered. Perhaps it could be designed to look like a massive cheese slice. Pay more and a tape loop would play throughout the procedure, barking out marketing messages. ‘This surgery is brought to you in association with Frosty Foods, where frozen liver is down this week’ – that sort of thing. Fund the whole shebang and the sutures will be sewn in the shape of the sponsor’s logo.
An appointment with your doctor is a little like a rock concert, in that it never starts on time. This may be because of the varying demands of general practice, rather than a roadie dropping a spanner down a mixing desk, but the effect is much the same – you’re left sitting around for an extended period, waiting for something to happen. Bingo! There’s a marketing opportunity for you.
As the poorly public lounge about coughing and moaning, instead of giving them five year old issues of ‘Take A Break’ to read, why not allow salespeople access to this captive audience? A team of young bucks in sharp suits could be gainfully deployed, circulating the waiting room. If they represented one of those ‘no-win-no-fee’ personal injury claims outfits, there’d be no need to ask ‘Have you had an accident?’. When the customer is bleeding out all over the chair, the preliminaries could be skipped. Or maybe drug reps could urge punters to demand a particular medicine, once they’re with the GP. It doesn’t matter if they have a bad back and you’re pushing an asthma treatment, by the time their appointment arrives, any decent sales wonk will have convinced them they DO have asthma.
Neo-natal photo opportunities
And on the subject of salespeople, wouldn’t it be brilliant if women who had recently been through the physical and emotional upheaval of childbirth, were given open access to the portrait photography industry. Courtesy of a commission-based, grinning stranger, they could forget the inconvenience of learning to feed their new son or daughter – or merely resting up – and choose a package of souvenir snaps of junior at a special, once-only price.
Now this concept may be a bit extreme, so a great deal of effort will need to be made to get it off the ground. Oh no, hang on … sorry, this one is already happening. Really.
Good health everybody.
Magnus Shaw – March 2015