Hey, aren’t you the doc in the commercials?”
Robert Bartlett gets asked that a lot these days. The surgeon and researcher has long been hot stuff in his professional world—he invented a life-support system called ECMO—but the reason people now approach him on the street is his prominent role in the U-M Health System’s “Victors Valiant” ad campaign. He appears in blue scrubs holding surgical equipment, his eyes flashing with laser-beam intensity.
The ads feature caregivers and patients in a montage set to a slow-paced, uplifting rendition of one of college football’s most famous fight songs. The recognition has been a boon for one “star,” Charity Riddle—the attractive young woman shown applying makeup with her prosthetic arms. “I’m a motivational speaker,” says Riddle, who was treated at the U-M for a bacterial infection that required the amputation of both her arms and legs. “I show the U of M commercial during my presentations.”
Now in its third year, the campaign is the brainchild of longtime Michigan ad agency Campbell-Ewald. In its initial bid for the contract, the agency “presented very much what you see today,” says Dave Brudon, the health system’s marketing director. “It’s just real honest—no hype.”
Brudon says the ads are intended less to attract patients than to increase the hospitals’ name recognition—and give a gentle prod to would-be donors. Brudon points to viewer surveys suggesting that, thanks to the ads, more people think the U-M Health System “will make a difference in the future of medical care.”
Gifts to the health system have risen from $44 million the year the ads started to $86 million last year. There’s no way to tell how much credit belongs to the ad campaign and how much to the U-M’s sophisticated and aggressive fund-raising efforts, but the health system obviously believes it’s worthwhile—it has extended Campbell-Ewald’s $3 million annual contract through 2011.
[This story has been updated since its publication in the October 2008 Ann Arbor Observer. The amount of money raised by the U-M Health System has been corrected.]