Hackensack University Medical Center “Catch”

It takes nerve to kill off Grandpa in making a sales pitch for a hospital. That’s what the story line seems to do in this spot for Hackensack University Medical Center, by New York-based Della Femina Rothschild Jeary & Partners. At the beginning, a kid is happily playing catch with his grandfather. (We later realize that this is a visual display of the kid’s memory of such occasions.) At the end, the kid is wistfully tossing the ball to himself. The point of the exercise is to let us know Hackensack is among the 1 percent of hospitals in the country that make HealthGrades America’s 50 Best Hospital list. A fact that could have been presented as boring corporate boast has been given distinctive flesh and blood in the form of this narrative. My question is whether viewers might have preferred the standard, boring approach. I guess not, but they’ll likely feel the commercial is pushing them around emotionally. If the spot had said Grandpa would still be alive had he come to Hackensack, that would be too tacky. Suggesting he might be alive if every hospital were as good as Hackensack (as the voiceover does) is narrowly within bounds. After all, instead of saying we’ll die if we go to some lesser hospital, the spot posits a better world in which every hospital is as wonderful as Hackensack and its top-50 peers. We’re left to draw the conclusion for ourselves that we’d better check into Hackensack (or a hospital of its caliber) should a need arise before the day of universal top-50ness has dawned. Viewers will take away the point that Hackensack is in that august top 50. They may wish the hospital had found a way of conveying it that didn’t entail a dead grandfather and a lonely kid. –-Mark Dolliver