A bald man wearing clown makeup in bloodied doctors scrubs stares creepily at you from a billboard on a busy Los Angeles road.
You wonder to yourself, is this an ad for Knott’s Scary Farm? For Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights? As you get closer to the billboard, the fine print becomes easier to read—“Thursdays, Midnight. Adult Swim.” You realize that the ad is very obviously a promotion for a television show.
Or do you?
Although the creepy billboard is clearly an advertisement for actor and comedian Rob Corddry’s late-night comedy Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim, this isn’t stopping some people from wondering if the ads are affiliated with the actual medical center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
One might notice the apostrophe in the word “children’s,” one of the only differences between the two names.
Aside from the confusion on the strikingly similar names, both the billboard and the medical center are located on the same street in Los Angeles—Sunset Boulevard.
CHLA, Los Angeles’ first and largest hospital, is a nonprofit, academic and pediatric medical center known for providing medical services to thousands of children each year. It has been affected quite a bit by the ads, mainly because the public can’t seem to understand that there are two children’s hospitals; one of which is a legitimate medical facility and the other which is a comedy show that pokes fun at medical dramas.
The Los Angeles Times reported that administrators at CHLA issued a memo to staff that the ads are in no way affiliated with the hospital’s advertising campaign, as if this was not already obvious.
The billboards and bus stop ads for Childrens Hospital clearly state the network, day and airing time of the cable show. But apparently, this is not enough to stop people from calling the hospital and questioning the creepy clown ads.
“People are questioning whether the ads are part of the ongoing CHLA branding campaign,” said hospital Vice President DeAnn Marshall in a statement. “If friends, family or other members of the community raise the issue, please assure them we are not affiliated with the show or its advertisements.”
Normally brand confusion like this would harm the copycat (in this case Childrens Hospital) not the original (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.) However, because there is obvious humor in the similarity of the names (the show gets its name after the character Dr. Arthur Childrens), Childrens Hospital is sliding under the radar while the medical facility is ironically receiving actual complaints.
But there isn’t a real problem here. If people can’t pay enough attention to a sign to see it isn’t owned by the actual hospital then that’s not the fault of the show itself. In fact it’s actually a pretty clever marketing campaign when you think about it.
This advertising campaign is smart for two reasons: location and timing.
By advertising in the city of Los Angeles, the home of the actual CHLA, the show is gaining more publicity than ever by stirring up a ton of controversy. In the famous words of Notorious B.I.G., “If you don’t know, now you know.”
About the show, that is.
On the other hand, timing is also important. The show first aired as a web series in 2008, with the exact same name. Four years later, CHLA probably doesn’t have a strong lawsuit on their hands when it comes to getting the creators of Childrens Hospital to change the shows name. Also, the ads are popping up in October with Halloween around the corner. What’s scarier to kids than a man wearing clown makeup with blood on his clothes? Nothing grabs your attention more.
While the ads may be a bit shocking and controversial, they are also hilarious and justify themselves appropriately. The ads provide enough information to distinguish the difference between the real Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the show, Childrens Hospital.
Provided, of course, that you pay close attention to the details.