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Practice Management

Sticky Bombs: The Not-So-Secret Weapon of Marketing

Pié, Mark

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doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000559498.59555.8c
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In the movie Saving Private Ryan, a U.S. Army Ranger, Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks), finds himself in the unenviable position of defending a bridge from many highly armed German soldiers. This enemy's armament includes several tanks. In the scene prior to the battle, Miller educates his men on a rather unorthodox way of taking out the enemy tanks. He calls his idea sticky bombs. “To make a sticky bomb,” Miller says, “you need a standard-issue GI sock. Fill the sock with some composition B explosives and a simple fuse.” He then says, “The sock needs to be covered with axle grease. This makeshift weapon is now sticky…a sticky bomb.”

marketing, humor, healthcare

Now what in the world does this war story have to do with marketing your audiology practice? Just this: Private audiology practices spend a lot of money trying to reach their target markets. It's a battle for sure. So it's critically important that information presented to this market has sticking power. Otherwise, efforts fall short and the money spent is largely wasted. Assuming your messaging is powerful, it still needs to stick to the memories of your target market.

But these days people are being bombarded with information from every direction—in their mailboxes, cell phones, and computers. Some of them may have retreated into their tank-like resistance, dismissing virtually everything that can significantly impact their hearing health. The savvy marketer needs to understand what he or she is up against and see the need for making sure the messaging has “stickability.”

Here is my premise. If I can make you laugh, I've made you feel good. We humans like to feel good. So when someone makes us feel good, we listen expectantly for more. In that feel-good moment, a bond is made between writer and reader, even if only for a few precious seconds. This is gold. It is that window of opportunity that every marketing dollar spent endeavors to create. Because within those next few moments, everything I say has stickability.


With its known link to higher message recall,1,2 humor is a potent marketing tool that offers a “way to sell your brand without outwardly selling something.”3 Better recall, Forbes writes, means “any message imbued with humor will be easier for your target demographics to remember.”4

“True laughter is an involuntary response,” noted David Madeira, who had a chiropractic practice for over 20 years in Dallas, PA. “In clinical practice, I saw a significant increase in compliance when deploying appropriate humor to help people endure pain and face the difficult decisions associated with complicated recoveries.

“In sales, we use humor to help people accept the cost of getting what they want or need. Was it not wise King Solomon who said, ‘A merry heart does good, like medicine’?”

One way through which humor “support[s] good memory performance” is the use of cartoons.5 “Cartoons allowed us to introduce serious patient education concepts in a very disarming way,” shared Lou Condrasky, the director of operations at Hearing Unlimited, a multisite audiology practice located in Pittsburgh, PA. “This approach offers an engagement level with our patients typically not seen in the world of audiology.”

Their practice incorporates cartoon humor by displaying wall art in waiting rooms and examination areas and sharing cartoons on Facebook.

“Results produced from integrating cartoon humor in our Facebook campaign has been a pleasant surprise,” said Condrasky. “When introducing the concept of hearing loss and its associated comorbidities, our practice saw an increase in likes and shares of over 300 percent.”

For example, Condrasky cited, a cartoon depicting Superman talking with his audiologist about setting proper expectations when wearing hearing devices (image) has served as a useful tool when discussing challenging counseling situations with patients, not to mention the remarkably easy segue it creates when asking for referrals.

Condrasky's practice also uses cartoon humor in creating marketing tools in the form of desktop calendars. They created a small coil-bound calendar featuring a cartoon per month with the practice's logo and strategic messaging. They distribute the calendar to key medical practices. They also include a trackable telephone number listed on each calendar page to identify when patients were referred to the practice. The staying power of the calendar throughout the year could be easily verified each time they re-visit the physician's office and see the calendars still being used on their desks.

Cartoon humor can also be used in greeting cards for patients and health care partners. Reach into your database and reconnect with all those patients you haven't heard from in a while. Send some audiology humor on their birthdays in an unbranded envelope—call it a feel-good anticipation fact.


The use of humor in marketing hearing health care needs to be done thoughtfully. Humor may not always be appropriate. Some key threats to using humor for marketing and advertising purposes include tasteless or offensive humor, bad timing, brand misalignment, and misunderstanding of memes.4

Going back to Miller's notion of sticky bombs, they are only effective if they stick. To make sure they stick, you must get close enough before you throw it. In hearing health care, humor needs to sound familiar to patients. If they can laugh about it and say that it sounds like them or somebody they know, then you'll know you've gotten close enough for the bomb to stick and they are more poised to remember the related messaging. I have seen that type of humor change moods of agitated or unengaged patients upon seeing relatable cartoons displayed in the waiting or examination room. I've seen the light go on in a patient's eyes when a relevant cartoon explains a point better than clinical words coming from a person in a white lab coat.

As hearing health care practice owners and practitioners, you know that the industry is changing. Maybe it's time to consider a new weapon in your marketing arsenal.


1. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 97 ( 2013 ) 252 – 257.
2. Front Psychol 2015; 6: 1296.
3. Speier, Kim. Hubspot, 2014.7 Boring Big Brands That Used Humor to Amp Up Their Marketing.
4. Olenski, Steven. Forbes, 2018.
5. Schmidt, S.R. & Williams, A.R. Memory & Cognition (2001) 29: 305.
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