Editor’s intro: In this article, Tara Clancy notes that rebranding OSA with a more motivating message can make patients take action more quickly.
by Tara A. Clancy, MA
OSA is our greatest health risk, and yet we need only look at the low compliance rate of C-PAP users to see how a diagnosis of OSA can fail to motivate. But where does the problem lie? Could it be our marketing? Does OSA need rebranding? And how can potatoes help?
Let’s consider the “marketing” of a disease like cancer. Who hasn’t been stopped cold in their tracks upon hearing the news that a loved one, a friend or a colleague has cancer. We know that cancer is progressive, and we know that it can kill you. It gets our attention.
Despite cancer’s deadly reputation, I once had a friend tell me that a lesion on her leg was cancer. “I’ll have to get it removed,” she commented, as we lounged at the pool one warm, summer afternoon. CANCER, and yet there she was lounging at the pool instead of calling every dermatologist in the book for the next available. “It’s the slow-growing kind,” she went on to explain, “so there’s no rush.”
What’s the takeaway? Even CANCER loses it motivating power when we water down the idea that it will hasten your death.
And yet haven’t we done precisely that with OSA – watered it down and labeled it so that what is really going on is a mere backdrop. After all, we “brand” it from a mechanical perspective and get increasingly oblique: an obstruction, during sleep, that produces a Greek-sounding thing you’ll need to google unless you remember high school lessons that you, as a teenager, were probably too tired to learn. And let’s not forget that the main symptom of OSA is daytime sleepiness. Should we expect our OSA patients, still tired, to take in the health details we push on them? Would that pass any marketing test?
To take the sleepiness one point further, we talk about the greatest impact of that sleepiness as an increased risk of auto accidents. Yet the SAVE study showed us that the lowest rate of C-PAP compliance was amongst the patients with minimal daytime symptoms. So that means they’re not at an increased risk of crashing their cars, but their brain cells are dying because of nightly airflow disruption while they sleep.
In reality, our market is not getting the message, and so we’re wasting our breath on this breathing-related problem. And our patients suffer.
But what if we called OSA what it is, something catchy like Breathing-based Brain Cell Death? It is a strong name, indeed, and potentially motivating. And yet we have to ask: would a name change even help? Is it truly possible to “rebrand” something that has been practically eschewed by segments of the public?
The answer is a resounding yes – a name change would help, and we need only look to the potato to see how.
In one of the most popular TED Talks, “Ad Man” Rory Sutherland tells about the successful rebranding of the potato. Frederick the Great of Prussia was having a problem getting peasants to grow it. In fact, people were literally being sentenced to death for refusing to grow the loathsome vegetable. In a stroke of marketing genius, Frederick the Great declared that the potato was for consumption by royalty only. With that, the formerly despised potato became an object that peasants would steal! With this story, Mr. Sutherland – who serves as the Executive Creative Director of OgilvyOne – proves this point: perspective is what gives something its value – and a simple “rebranding” can change everything.
So taking the lesson from the potato, can we rebrand OSA? Specifically, can we market the perceived – and very real threat – of OSA? In fact, can we rebrand all forms of nighttime breathing problems?
Yes, we can, and should. We need to start by giving sleep-disordered breathing an everyday name that tells it like it is. Think, for example, of the everyday name for mononucleosis: “kissing disease.” You get branded with that and no one is puckering up to you – or even sharing your cup – for fear of coming down with the virus.
And that is why I like the name Breathing-based Brain Cell Death for everyday use. It captures what happens as airflow to the brain is repeatedly disrupted, right? (And it sounds kind of cool as an acronym, too: 3BCD.)
So if we have a name that allows us to get the consequences of the disease to our market, then the next step is to tackle the degrees of the disease.
The current “mild, moderate and severe” degrees of OSA are wholly inadequate. We need only think back to the example of my friend sitting poolside with her cancer lesion because it was the “slow-growing kind.”
As an alternate to the “mild, moderate and severe” labels for OSA, I propose the following:
Stages of Breathing-based Brain Cell Death:
- Nasal Breathing – Typical Breathing-based Brain Cell Death
- Mouth Breathing and SDB – Accelerated Breathing-based Brain Cell Death
Picture this scenario
A new patient comes into your office showing all the signs of SDB: open mouth posture, elongated face, extracted teeth, retruded mandible, and general craniofacial dystrophy.
You: “There are two basic kinds of breathing-based brain cell death that happen to us as humans: typical and accelerated. Based on what I see, I am concerned that you are dealing with Accelerated Breathing-based Brain Cell Death. I would like you to schedule a sleep study as soon as possible. We need to know if your brain cell death is accelerated so we can get the right treatment for you.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine that person lounging by the pool telling a friend she’ll have to get a sleep study done…no rush. No, what I see is her reaching for her cellphone to call the sleep center – right then and there. And this would be excellent patient response because we know from Peter C. Farrell and Glenn Richards’ 2017 study, “…the recognition and treatment of SDB is vital for the continued health and wellbeing of individual patients with SDB (emphasis added).”1
In the current market, rebranding the insipid “sleep-disordered breathing” into Accelerated Breathing-based Brain Cell Death would make it like a potato – a very hot potato – that motivates the patient to act quickly. And it is through such rebranding that we can reach our market and truly help them maintain their health and wellbeing.
- Farrell, Peter C, Richards, Glenn: Recognition and treatment of sleep-disordered breathing: an important component of chronic disease management Journal of Translational Medicine 2017 15:114