The Doctors Plastic Surgery Subway Ad Journey

Doctors Plastic Surgery is a New York City based plastic surgery practice.

Their aim is to make plastic surgery more accessible to the average person. Here’s an excerpt from their website (emphasis added):

Doctors Plastic Surgery is a unique and revolutionary practice in New York City. No longer is plastic surgery in New York only for the rich and famous. We offer the most affordable plastic surgery in the city without sacrificing safety or quality results. Our Board Certified Surgeons perform so many cosmetic procedures that they are able to offer these procedures to you at a fraction of the price. There is no need to risk travelling out of state, or worse, out of the country, in order to afford the plastic surgery you have always wanted. Now you can receive world class treatment right here in New York and recover in the comfort of your own home. Nobody should have to get on a plane a few days after their procedure, or stay in a strange hotel away from their family and friends. Nobody should have to book their procedure with a doctor they have never met, or know nothing about. Now, you don’t have to.

Similar to all other medical procedures, the price of plastic surgery varies from one place to the next. And in New York City, plastic surgery is expensive (just like everything else). Many locals seeking affordable plastic surgery often consider leaving the city, state and even the country to get it.

Doctors Plastic Surgery is aware of this dynamic and they’re also aware that traveling to unknown doctors in unfamiliar places makes women in their target feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

In light of these things and how DPS views itself, it seems obvious that the critical communication objectives in their marketing should be “quality but affordable” and “world class yet local”.

Here is their first NYC subway ad, launched in the spring of 2014.

banned ad
Doctors Plastic Surgery’s First Subway Ad – Spring 2014. Click to enlarge (no pun intended)

I didn’t particularly care for this ad. I feel like it communicates a lot, but one communication point overwhelms all the others.

What’s being communicated here?


2. Affordable BREASTS
3. Local BREASTS

I feel some kind of way having written the word “breasts” in all caps so many times in such a short span, but that is what this spot achieved. This ad was intended to shock, command attention, start conversations and ultimately to get people talking about DPS.

The problem is that most people couldn’t get past the shock of LARGE BREASTS.

Although I believe this ad communicates affordability* – the price speaks for itself – affordability is overshadowed by large breasts (no pun intended).

*By way of comparison, NYC based Mount Sinai Hospital’s “affordable” breast augmentation cost “$4800 (costs of implants additional)”.

Branding their surgery as “Made In New York” is an awesome way to communicate local and quality. This choice of language borrows from all the positives of New York City’s global brand. It can be likened to saying something like “Pizza: Made In New York” or “Theater: Made In New York”. It is a clever way to communicate that what you’re offering is the best there is. But again – this communication point is overshadowed by large breasts.

The problem with this ad is that it overperformed in the shock category. This ad commanded attention and started conversations, but it did so for all the wrong reasons. The main conversation started by this ad was about removing inappropriate ads from the subway. After the New York State Governor’s office got involved this ad was ultimately pulled.

How could this ad have been made better?

Four words: Pull the camera back.

A close up on breasts is objectifying and probably sexist. A picture of a person is humanizing and it tells the women that DPS wants to target “women like you get this procedure” or “the woman you want to be gets this procedure”.

The subsequent challenge for DPS was figuring out how to successfully communicate “quality but affordable” and “world class yet local” within the confines of the new MTA (NYC subway) ad decency standards (read: tone down the shock).

Here is their second NYC subway ad, launched in the late summer of 2014:

dream big
Doctor’s Plastic Surgery Second Subway Ad – Summer 2014. Click to enlarge (no pun intended)

What’s being communicated here?

1. Elegance
2. Wonder
3. Local Breasts
4. Affordable Breasts

I really liked this ad – it is (spot) on strategy. $3900 appears prominently in this ad to communicate affordability – but, lest anyone think this is a low quality service, quality and elegance are beautifully communicated through simple design, excellent photography, relative modesty and rich colors.

I also loved how they make their product aspirational yet attainable. Insecurity, in many ways, drives demand for plastic surgery. This ad reaches into the realm of insecurity and invites the consumer to dream…and to do so elegantly. And if the consumer feels their dreams to be too lofty, too elegant, or too “above their pay grade”, DPS reminds them that their dream is attainable because their dream is affordable.

Additionally, I believe the relative modesty of this ad contributes to an overall tastefulness and tactfulness that was absent from the Spring 2014 ad.  And this taste and tact communicate volumes about the DPS business to prospective customers. Primarily, it communicates that they are tasteful and tactful professionals who know how to interact with patients (#bedsidemanner).

We already know one of the insights driving the DPS practice is that consumers can feel vulnerable at several points during their plastic surgery journey. This ad helps to allay some of the concerns that can lead to feelings of vulnerability by treating this somewhat sensitive and very personal subject with the “low shock, high class” tone it merits.

That brings us to the most recent DPS subway ad, launched in spring 2015:

DPS Subway Ad – Spring 2015. Click to enlarge (no pun intended)


I hate this ad. This ad is the reason why I felt compelled to tell this story about Doctors Plastic Surgery.

Here are the primary reasons why I feel this way:

1. It is off-strategy

This ad completely whiffs on communicating “quality” and “world class”.  Although DPS has built a certain “quality” brand equity with their previous and continued choice of colors, fonts and lines, nothing about the subject of this ad is aligned with that equity.

The photography is poor, the choice of clothing is inelegant and the model is holding fruit in the place of her breasts. The caption for this ad might as well have read “Get yer melons done”. Low class visuals and low class messaging are not aligned with a quality brand.

2. Appeals to low motives

I absolutely hate how this ad appeals to the basest motivation behind plastic surgery. We all know that (some) people get plastic surgery because they are upset with how their body looks or because they’re insecure – but plastic surgery customers want higher motivations. Higher motivations help customers feel better about a decision for non-reconstructive  plastic surgery and higher motivations are also aligned with things that are “quality” and “world class”.

There is nothing aspirational about being happy to transition from “tangerines” to “grapefruits”.

3. It is Body Shaming

What bothered me most about this ad is the implication that it is a sad thing to have small breasts. This ad isn’t just selling breast augmentation and DPS, it is also communicating shame and unnecessarily sowing seeds of insecurity.

It speaks of some bodies as problematic when those bodies have merited no such criticism. Though I strongly doubt these implications to be the motivation behind this ad, the communicator must own both what is intentionally and unintentionally communicated.


In closing, these three ads read like a struggle between divergent visions for the DPS brand driven by divergent understandings of who the DPS target customer is.

Until DPS figures out who they are and who they want, they risk alienating customers for whom the summer 2014 ad resonated and confusing the customers for whom the spring 2014 and 2015 ads resonated. The DPS strategy appears to be a work in progress. Someone needs to finalize it.

I believe the best way forward is to go the way of the Summer 2014 ad. It is more respecting of women and it paints a better and more likeable picture of who DPS is.

Until next time