Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Memorial Sloan Kettering had pioneered the “story line” technique of hospital advertising, featuring actual patients who had been successfully treated. Over the years, however, more and more competing advertising had taken on the look and feel of MSK ads. Consumers clearly recognized Memorial Sloan Kettering as the world’s leading cancer hospital, but perhaps because of the sameness of the advertising, they also believed that cancer treatments were pretty much the same everywhere. Cancer care itself was becoming a commodity. Consequently, too many new patients were going to Memorial Sloan Kettering as a last resort, making it difficult to help them.  


The solution was to understand why cancer treatment was not only better at MSK but different. Clearly just being well-known was not differentiation enough. Their culture of treatment provided the clue: it relies on constant communication among specialists, nurses, departments and floors to bring the full weight of knowledge and expertise of the entire organization to bear on each patient’s cancer. Statistical analysis had proved MSK’s unique approach to cancer treatment offered patients a much better chance of a better outcome--but only if they came to MSK first, as soon as they were diagnosed. 


The resulting position line: “Where you’re treated first can make all the difference” came directly out of the MSK culture and became the mantra of the organization, supported convergently in all communications programs, including in a specialized micro-website:

Within the first six months of introduction, over 170,000 unique visitors had typed in—that means nearly 500 people every day who had seen the advertising and responded to learn more about getting themselves or their loved ones treated at MSK. Over the years, the campaign evolved but did not change until very recently. 


As agency Creative Director at the time, I articulated and recommended this strategy to their Marketing Director. It became one of the most popular (among other hospital Marketing Directors) ad campaigns ever.