Brand!t Marketing

Columbia Healthcare


A new national player in the healthcare market, Columbia, purchased 35 Houston-area community hospitals. Each had a following in its nearby service area. The Columbia name was a complete unknown, and research showed that the public did not like the idea of a corporate conglomerate taking over their neighborhood hospital.

Work Plan

Change 19 names and also change people's minds at the same time. No problem! The graphics, advertising and public relations had to be friendly and approachable, yet convey a sense of improved technology and quality of care, both assets that Columbia made possible. The Columbia stamp on any institution needed to breed confidence in area consumers.


We implemented a "teaser" campaign to generate "word of mouth." A traditional tease ad baits viewers with an intriguing question, then answers that question in advertising that follows weeks later. We wanted people to ask their friends, "Did you see that billboard? What did it mean?" to get some publicity and buzz circulating. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time or money to do both the tease and answers ads separately. So we ran them simultaneously. In The Chronicle, the teaser ad was on a right-hand page and the answer ad was directly on the back side of it, as the reader turned the page. Similarly, billboards carried teaser ads facing one direction (for example, inbound traffic) and the answer billboard faced another direction (e.g. outbound).

TEASER: You know us. You just don't know our name. (photo of medical staff)
ANSWER: We're Columbia. 19 hospitals in the Houston area.

TEASER: You know us. You just don't know where we are. (blank map)
ANSWER: We're Columbia. 19 hospitals in the Houston area. (map with 19 locations shown)

The campaign ran on radio, billboards, The Chronicle and other community newspapers.


A Gallup survey measured awareness before and after the campaign. Awareness of Columbia and hospitals that belonged to the system went from 0 to 300% -- amazing! Later the same year, Columbia's national parent ran a TV campaign that was three times more expensive. The awareness needle only moved 120%.