GEMS Olympics ads go for the gold

October 11, 2000

On the heels of news reports that pharmaceutical companies reaped big profits over the past year marketing prescription drugs directly to television viewers, General Electric Medical Systems hit the airwaves hard during the recent Sydney Olympics with

On the heels of news reports that pharmaceutical companies reaped big profits over the past year marketing prescription drugs directly to television viewers, General Electric Medical Systems hit the airwaves hard during the recent Sydney Olympics with ads for expensive scanning hardware.

The ads were really directed at radiologists, said Brian S. Johnson, marketing communications manager for GE Medical Systems. A spot for the LightSpeed CT scanner made it clear that its operators were radiologists (even a patient in one of the spots was a radiologist), but the punch line could well have been aimed at the consumer:

“Does your hospital have one?” said the voiceover.

“We wrestled with whether we should add that to see how the market would react to that bolder comment,” Johnson said, “but we tested it with customers and decided to run it.”

Johnson said the rhetorical question was removed after its initial appearance, and subsequent LightSpeed commercials ran without it.

“We were definitely very sensitive to that whole issue (of direct-to-consumer marketing),” he said. “The commercials were for GEMS, but were not funded or developed by GEMS. Corporate mainly wanted to target investors, shareholders, and decision-makers.”

A couple of decades ago such direct-to-consumer (or patient) marketing would have been considered unethical, but now everyone’s doing it. Johnson said about half the TV commercials were for GEMS products such as LightSpeed, the Senographe digital mammography unit, and the Signa OpenSpeed MRI scanner, although their corporate parent was calling the shots. GE owns NBC, which broadcast the Sydney games in the U.S.

“The company slogan is ‘We bring good things to life,’ so they obviously looked to GEMS, and we benefited,” he said.

GE Power Systems and GE Financial Systems commercials were also shown on the Olympics broadcasts and on the Sunday morning talk shows, he said.

Johnson said he did not have placement numbers for the commercials, which will be made available to customers for use in their home regions.