‘Mad Men’ advice for marketing your treatment center | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

‘Mad Men’ advice for marketing your treatment center

March 24, 2015
by Patrick D'Amico
| Reprints
5 Tips on Messaging
Patrick D'Amico

In season seven of the television series “Mad Men,” the iconic character Don Draper is cornered by a young, ambitious entrepreneur who happens to be installing a mainframe computer in the ad agency’s Manhattan offices. “Advertising…does it work?” he asks Draper. His question is as complex as it is simple. The installer goes on to say that he started his small computer business with two friends, but six months later he has 19 employees and 10 new competitors.

Draper takes a long drag of his Lucky Strike and delivers one of his trademark pearls of wisdom, “Well, they don’t have you. And they don’t advertise.”

In today’s marketing speak, Don Draper may have been telling us that, while the competitive set may be ever expanding, they do not have your center’s unique collective experience, your approach to treating addiction or your special passion for helping to release people from the grasp of addiction.

It’s puzzling why a great many treatment centers take Draper’s second piece of advice and, indeed, advertise, while failing to first carefully consider and articulate what makes them special, different or potentially better. Consequently, a lot of centers spend a small fortune on advertising tactics without first developing a carefully crafted brand position, only to find that it simply doesn’t work. So, why is that?

Best impressions

There’s a popular myth being propagated around the treatment center marketing watercooler that awareness is directly proportional to census. There are marketing “experts” springing up seemingly everywhere who will tell you that the more raw impressions your treatment center creates, the more patients you’ll welcome into your center’s beds. And they’ll tell you that those impressions can be quickly generated by way of search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising (PPC), useless infographics, memes and pins that no one would ever need, or even articles written in India for 5 cents a word.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: Impressions are the lifeblood of awareness. And you must have awareness before you can have consumer consideration. But if those impressions result in click-throughs or phone calls to a treatment center that has no meaningful brand position, point of differentiation or consistent story to share, then a lot of money will have been wasted, beds will remain empty and a hard lesson will have been learned. You see, impressions without a message that is meaningful, differentiated and true may create awareness. But they will fall far short of creating conversion. 

Here’s an example. A real estate investment group—let’s say from Nebraska—asked us if we could guarantee 50 patients per month for the treatment center they had just acquired, and how much that would cost. They were primarily interested in organic SEO and link building. They had “tried” PPC, and it didn’t “work.”

On the brand’s website, the home page featured cliché images of Zen rock towers and footprints in the sand. Remember, this is Nebraska not Nantucket. There was a big, fat, glaring typo in the very first line of the very first page and at least one on nearly every page after that, which explained, at least in part, the “didn’t work” assessment of their PPC program.

 While they offered gender-specific treatment, the text of the men’s treatment page was identical to that on the women’s treatment page except for the word “women” instead of “men.” Beyond that, the language they used read like that of hundreds of other sites:

A comprehensive continuum of care delivered by a multidisciplinary staff of addiction professionals…

There was not a single sentence about what might make this center special, different or better than the two dozen other centers within a 100-mile radius of them.

What they needed was a website renovation, implementation of on-page SEO best practices and a marketing communications plan. But none of that could start without a thoughtful exploration of what makes their brand a compelling choice for someone in the throes of addiction, for their family or for a referent with a reputation to uphold. We never heard from them again. To date, the typos are still there.

Before the internet, before social media, before SEO, PPC, etc., there was print, direct mail, radio and television. Period. And I’m talking 1994 not 1964.

Can anyone imagine an addiction treatment center back then investing the time and money into developing and running content for any of those media without obsessing over the message in order to get that 30-second TV spot or 60-second radio spot exactly right? In this social-media saturated age where there are infinitely more ways to deliver a message, so many marketers have forgotten that you actually need a message to deliver.

And it has to be meaningful and uniquely yours. And compelling. And, God knows, truthful. Beautifully written wouldn’t hurt either. So how do you go about crafting a brand story that will matter to your consumer? Here are five tips that will give you a running start.

Five tips on messaging

1.      Look Within Yourself. Call time out right now and carefully consider what it is that makes your center special to each of your key constituencies. What is your purpose? Why are you here? And how does your brand of treatment fit into the bigger picture of addiction treatment today? Does it at all resemble the story you are telling today? It should.




No, I did not know that Jon Hamm was in alcohol rehab at the time this article was written. Strange serendipity.