The Smile Channel

Last February, I mentioned my dentist had acquired a plasma screen television for his smallish waiting area. Although I was correct about the tax-deductibility aspect, I had naively assumed the TV would be primarily used for daytime television, perhaps even to keep the staff amused. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

The morning started with my arriving at 6:50 a.m. Only instead of my appointment being at the usual 7:00, it was at 7:30 a.m. I went across the street for coffee, but the Starbucks lounge was uncomfortable with no place to sit and enjoy a coffee and newspaper. With no other nearby alternative, I went back to the dentist office with a puzzle book. By now, the TV was playing the “Smile Channel,” though the volume was muted so as not to annoy the staff who have to work there. (I see the same thing in my local Washington Mutual. Marketers take note.)

The “Smile Channel,” not to be confused with either the Smile Network (the non-profit humanitarian organization) or the Sci-Fi channel, is a 90-minute DVD consisting of several short edutainment pieces averaging about a minute each. It’s produced by a Vancouver-based patient education company, and not surprisingly, the programs I saw were generally slick. Though the DVD may seem benign, the purpose is clearly to market discretionary dental services. Example content (sample) included:

  • Educational (serious) The animated snippet on plaque was polished (no pun intended) and is clearly the company’s forte.
  • Educational (anthropomorphic) A feature called “Brushing with Wally” showed that seals can build up plaque, too. Oh, if they only had opposable thumbs to floss! Later, they had one with chimpanzees, who do have opposable thumbs, but have apparently never been to the dentist until the film crew was available.
  • Educational (pseudo-editorial) The emcee discussed how dental insurance is “not keeping up with the times,” using inflation as the crux for his argument, but ignoring any advances in technology. (On my last visit, I saw the dentist for 47 seconds for which he billed the insurance company $80.) End message: expect to pay out of pocket for dental services.
  • Quizzes are used to reinforce concepts. For example, the quiz adjacent to the previous feature was “which of these services is not typically covered by dental insurance?”
  • Comedy relief Beautiful couple’s daughter loses her first tooth. Upon hearing the tooth fairy pays based on the size of the tooth, she gleefully disappears in her room. The curious parents later find her sleeping on a six-foot molar bed. That’s got to be worth a pony. Nyuk nyuk.
  • Other Products and Services – this was the largest category of content, accounting for 70% of what I saw. The vendor offers a “Beautiful Smile Gallery” with stock photos or, as an additional service, will customize it with the dentist’s real patients. Other subjects included: porcelain veneers, home whitening, repairing chipped teeth, white fillings, removing gaps in teeth and extending the length of teeth.

Overall, it’s an impressive way to market to a captive audience. At over $1,000 per tooth, acquiring one additional cosmetic dentistry customer a year would more than pay for the service, TV and off-site Dental Education Refresher in Jamaica.

3 thoughts on “The Smile Channel”

  1. And once you pass from the waiting room into the promised land of pearly whites, you get to see the Disclaimer video (the less flamboyant marketing cousin for products that are superflous, expensive, life-altering and/or lacking in data history).

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