SO WHAT MAKES AN ADVERTISEMENT GOOD? That’s an interesting question. I’ve written about this before.1 When I ask that question in a seminar on ethics, the most common response I hear from the audience members is, "A good advertisement is one that brings in new patients. "This is not true in a program on ethics. An advertisement that brings in new business is an effective advertisement but not necessarily a good one. I know we use the term "good" to mean many things, but in a seminar on ethics one ought to infer the meaning of good to be as opposed to bad or evil, not good as in effective or bad as in ineffective.
Tenant XI of the ACA Code of Ethics details what a good advertisement is (need I say from an ethical standpoint?):
XI. Doctors of chiropractic should exercise utmost care that advertising is truthful and accurate in representing the doctor’s professional qualifications and degree of competence. Advertising should not exploit the vulnerability of patients, should not be misleading and should conform to all governmental jurisdictional rules and regulations in connection with professional advertising.
For now however, I’d like to explore another meaning of good, as in looking good. This is an issue of aesthetics. Both ethics and aesthetics are among the fundamental areas of inquiry in philosophy and while ethics deals with behaviors, the other deals with the nature of beauty, art and taste.
In common usage, the term “professional” is often applied to issues of aesthetics. It is not uncommon to hear or read a comment about a person’s appearance, hygiene, clothing, office, signage, website, stationery etc. and if he or she appears professional or unprofessional.
In a classic sense, professionalism should not be about aesthetics. It should be about one’s commitment to altruism, accountability, duty, honor and integrity, respect for others and excellence. Yet people do judge a book by its cover. There is a classic scene in the movie Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts’ character is chased out of the Versace store because of her tasteless look and later returns after having been transformed by Richard Gere’s character’s largess and more important, his mentorship and treating her with respect. She has an unlimited ability to buy and says to the store clerk, “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”
Potential patients might miss out, like the store clerk, on the best chiropractic physician, because they judge the book by its cover. They erroneously decide that the consummate professional (as described above) isn’t professional for some aesthetic reason. Given that taste is personal, there is no way for the professional to look or sound or smell in a way that will please everyone. However, one can try not to be obviously tasteless or offensive, which might mean being average.
Research has shown that the image that averages photos of people typically results in an image that is more attractive than the average attractiveness of the people.2 Maybe making the aesthetics of a practice average might improve its attractiveness to a potential patient.
A useful exercise is to have an honest friend experience all the aesthetic components of one’s practice. By honest friend, I mean the one who will tell you if you have bad breath or your zipper is down. By components of one’s practice, I mean everything, including your building inside and out (i.e., how the rooms of the office look, smell and feel), your website and method of answering phones. How do the water or other refreshments that patients drink and eat taste, smell and feel? Consider your tables and other equipment (i.e., are they clean, worn out, pleasant smelling?) How do you and your staff look, smell and feel? My dad said when I graduated from chiropractic college he felt that I touched differently — the way I touched people, in mundane situations and not just therapeutic ones, had changed. Was it truly better?
Are your advertisements good? It may not be an issue of professionalism, but aesthetics can be perceived.
Dr. Perle is a professor of clinical sciences at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, where he has taught an ethics course for more than 15 years. To read ACA’s code of ethics, visit www.acatoday.org/ethics. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.