Marketing to Doctors, McDonald’s Style

Remember the McDonald’s slogan, “You deserve a break today”? Who knows how many Big Macs were sold on the strength of the idea that everyone deserves a break now and then?

courtesy of flickr user Bravo Six Niner Delta (creative commons)

The rationalization of rewarding yourself for a job well done is a fixture in all types of advertising and a study in the Sept. 15 issue of JAMA suggests the technique might be effective when used on young physicians.

In a study of 301 resident physicians in the United States, almost twice as many of those who were reminded of their hard work and sacrifice to get through medical school said they thought industry-sponsored gifts were acceptable, compared with controls who weren’t reminded of the sleepless nights, huge loans, and ramen/caffeine diets (48% vs. 22%). To disguise their true intent, the researchers hid the gift acceptance questions in a survey that was supposedly evaluating the residents’ values and quality of life.

But wait, there’s more. The study divided the physicians into three groups. A third group was not only reminded of the hardships of medical school, they also were given a written suggestion that they could rationalize the acceptance of gifts based on the sacrifices they made along the way. A whopping 60% of this group said that industry-sponsored gifts were acceptable, although most of them also said that they disagreed with the rationalization statement when it was presented earlier in the survey.

The study investigators, Sunita Sah, MS, and George Loewenstein, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, wrote “little attention has been given to the psychological processes that enable physicians to rationalize the acceptance of gifts,”  despite the increased attention to disclosures and conflicts of interest in medicine.

So what are those processes? It doesn’t take a scientist to recognize the tendency in all of us, medical residents or not, to reward ourselves for a job well done. Whether it is McDonald’s for french fries after school finals, a new outfit after a promotion, or a spa day after completing a big project at work, the thought is the same: I worked hard, I deserve a break today.

How well the “you deserve a break today” strategy could be used by marketing mavens to get to doctors can’t be determined from this study. But the McDonald’s sales figures suggest that there must be something to it. And thanks to YouTube, you can get your not-so-subliminal rationalization here. Or watch it here.

I would like to report that I have no relevant disclosures, other than a fondness for McDonald’s fries and a recollection of a frighteningly similar circa 1982 wardrobe to that of the kids in the commercial.

—Heidi Splete (@hsplete on Twitter)

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Filed under Family Medicine, Health Policy, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Practice Trends, Primary care

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