Hackvertising: What it is; How to Use It

Hackvertising involves closely watching conversations trending on social media and in the news and then finding relevant ways to insert your brand into those conversations — even if it involves breaking a few rules.

Hackers come in many “colors”.  They apply unconventional tactics and strategies to produce uncommon results…and revenues.

White hat hackers

I am a white hat hacker who is hired by healthcare providers and investors or governments to identify issues that can be hacked to produce positive results in appropriate ways.

Gray hat hackers

They are the industry pranksters. They are out to have fun while still producing results that drive brand awareness and revenues.

Black hat hackers

These hackers are the naughty marketers who hack for personal gain. They write malicious code, break laws and regulations, and can get you and your brand into real trouble if you follow their advice and exploits.


How to Hackvertise

The first step is to find a vulnerability by monitoring what people are talking about on social media. You can do this by following Reddit, Imgur, Trendsmap and mainstream and industry media to learn what the current buzz is about. You can also hire agencies to do this for you if you don’t have time to do it inhouse.

For instance, in U.S. healthcare the current topics (Nov 30, 2019) are price transparency, surprise billings, reference-based pricing, managed care enrollment, covered benefits, pharmacy pricing, bundled surgery pricing, cash pay transactions, and anything to do with value-based purchasing.

How can you insert your brand in these discussions in a meaningful way and get involved in the news cycle? 

The next step is to study the rules of healthcare marketing so you can bend or break them without breaking the laws and regulations that are in force.

This step is one where many generalists and dabblers who own marketing, advertising, branding and public relations agencies come up short. They forget that healthcare marketing regulations constrain tactics and strategies because the laws and regulations are enacted to protect vulnerable consumers.  For example, they create campaigns with words like “better” or “best” and other superlatives without externally or independently validated substantiation. They talk about cures and treatments as exact sciences. The make claims that look good in ads, but providers can’t consistently deliver what’s promised. That which is nefarious is not their intention. But it becomes so out of laziness and ignorance and stepping far beyond their competency limits in pursuit of accounts and revenues. Instead of “always be closing”, they should invest some time in learning healthcare marketing craft before selling providers something that looks good while breaking the laws.

The third step is to find a relevant way to insert your brand into the conversation. To do this requires clarity on your brand point of view and clear objectives.   A strong and well-developed point of view gives your brand, services and products (such as a domestic or near-market medical travel program) personality, authenticity, and individuality and makes it easier for customers to decide to engage with you.

Point of view begins with examining your overall advertising environment and the options the provider would like to exploit through a sound marketing strategy. First examine advertising trends within the local, regional and national healthcare marketplaces. Select the ones that are most viable for your brand. Examine target markets of each media vehicle to determine if viewers, readers, listeners and subscribers are likely to respond to the advertisement and its placement. Create comparable options and evaluate the pros and cons of each option.  This will elucidate the most cost-effective opportunities. 

Review production costs and budget considerations to deploy your marketing and advertising hackvertising plan.  When I prepare these POV reports and proposals, I advise clients about how much they have to invest, plus ways to shift around current advertising tactics to make funds available for the new opportunity they’re examining. If the advertising option is viable, but too expensive for the current budget, the media planning team may suggest adding the advertising option to the plans for the following quarter or year.  I let them earn revenues from their existing efforts and then encourage them to use some of the margins as a set aside for the future campaigns. 

Next Steps

Now that you’ve read this article, how will you hackvertise your brand? Take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center of the page, creating two columns. Invest a few minutes to jot down ideas in the left column and how you’ll build credibility through social proof on your website, brand blitzes, and other promotional efforts in the right column. Next to each action on the right side of the paper, jot down some budget estimates.  While word of mouth promotion is free, you need to use paid advertising and brand blitz actions to get them talking and to spread the word. Position your brand as the best possible solution. If you want to hackvertise, you need to be quick to respond so you can enter the cycle in real time, not too early, and not too late that the conversation has moved on without you. 

Maria Todd is a globally-recognized healthcare industry influencer with the power to transform your practice, hospital or ASC. She shares practical healthcare marketing, branding and business development tools, tips, techniques drawn from consulting projects and assignments from her practice. Her latest book on marketing will become available in Spring, 2020.
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