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‘Stonebusters’ Campaign Rocks the Boat Hospital Injects Humor in Its Ads

Times Staff Writer

In the 1984 movie “Ghostbusters,” actors Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd used Middle American marketing gimmickry to draw customers to their otherworldly ghost-extermination business. The business was a smash, and so was the film.

Mindful of that success, St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, the largest of more than two dozen hospitals in the San Fernando Valley area, has adapted a Ghostbusters-type advertising theme. The pitch is being used to market the hospital’s new lithotripter--a device that disintegrates kidney stones without surgery.

Takeoff From Film

The advertisements say, “Kidney Stones? Who ya gotta call . . . Stonebusters!” They have appeared in a local medical journal and several newspapers, including The Times.

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They show a cartoon kidney stone, complete with eyes and arms, inside the international symbol of a circle crossed by a diagonal line. It’s similar to the Ghostbusters logo.

Hospitals across the nation are increasingly competing for patients, in part because rising medical costs have made people more reluctant to use health-care facilities. But, whereas commercials for hospitals that treat eating disorders and alcoholism fill the Los Angeles airwaves, advertisements for high-tech medical equipment are rare.

“We wanted something that would be catchy, that would get the message across,” explained Linda Roberts, a member of St. Joseph’s community relations staff, which devised the advertisement. “We wanted something funny because people tend to joke about kidney stones anyway.”

Stuart Bruck, vice president for marketing at Nu-Med, an Encino-based hospital chain, took issue with the ad. Bruck said people take kidney stones very seriously and can lose confidence in a hospital easily.

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‘Image Counts’

“I think it’s important to capture the imagination of the public, but it’s your overall image that counts,” Bruck said.

Jennifer Flinton, a senior vice president at American Medical International, a Beverly Hills-based hospital chain, said she would not use a similar ad for her company because some people might find it distasteful.

In fact, Roberts said, some doctors at St. Joseph were offended by the ad but that there have been no complaints from the public. She said the hospital plans to run the ad again during the next several weeks.

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“I guess the only problem with it is that some of the doctors say our kidney stone looks more like a Brillo pad,” she said.


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