Plastic Surgeons are a rare breed. With in the medical circles they are known as the artists ( in comparison, Cardiac Surgeons are the plumbers and the orthopaedicians the carpenters), those who sculpt the human body, try and turn back the clock by the magic of their scalpel. While plastic surgery can be cosmetic as well as reconstructive, the plastic surgeons are mostly identified with cosmetic surgery.
They are also the ones who routinely get celebrities under their knives. Filmstars often owe their longevity to these very skilled surgeons, whose deftness ensures a flawless visage. In India, cosmetic surgery is still considered something of a luxury, meant for the super rich, with tonnes of money to burn. The association of this art and science with womenfolk also continues. It is commonly believed that women like to go for cosmetic surgery be it liposuction or a tummy tuck or a nose job, they just love to get under the knives of a plastic surgeon.
I have worked closely with Dr. Rashmi Taneja, a US trained plastic surgeon, who currently heads the plastic surgery team at Artemis Health Institute in Gurgaon and also with Dr. Sunil Choudhary, who heads Plastic Surgery at Max Healthcare. Both of them are excellent surgeons and have busy practices. My interactions with them over the years has given me a greater understanding on the issues involved in attempting to market Plastic Surgery. Here are my learnings.
That Cosmetic Surgery is a waste of money is a myth. Looking good is a basic human need. Cosmetic Surgery allows skilled surgeons to remove and correct body anomalies, and help an individual look and feel better. It imparts confidence, brings about positive personality changes and in many cases helps individuals overcome barriers of the mind. While it is true that cosmetic surgery does not help save a life and is not strictly necessary, it does help people suffering from low self esteem overcome their difficulties.
A successful cosmetic surgery program must have a sensible cosmetic surgeon at its heart. Both Dr. Taneja and Dr. Choudhary turn away patients, who they believe have unrealistic expectations from their surgery. They educate and align patient expectations towards reasonable outcomes. Thus, Dr. Taneja would rather not operate on a young woman who craves a body like Bipasha Basu’s. However, she would gladly help a middle aged housewife undergo surgery to remove wrinkles or do a tummy tuck. Thus the selection of patients suitable for cosmetic surgery is extremely important.
Cosmetic Surgery still has an element of guilt associated with it. Dr. Taneja would often get ladies walking in for surgery, when their husbands are out of town. The idea is to spring a pleasant surprise on the unsuspecting husbands and also present a fait accompli. This approach is downright dangerous. Surgery, even if cosmetic is serious business and has all the attendant risks of infection and things going wrong. It is best for a cosmetic surgeon to advise the patients to make their choices carefully and as far as possible with the consent and support of friends and family. Pretty much like any other surgery.
Cosmetic Surgery in India is still largely restricted to young ladies of marriageable age, whose parents believe they need their daughters to have a different look in order to find the right groom. This unfortunately comes from a a long held belief that in the marriage market it is looks that really count. While things are changing in big cities, where more and more young men are marrying for love and consider decent education a greater marriage perquisite than looks, the desire to have a beautiful bride continues to be overwhelming. Thus, their remains a sizable market for cosmetic surgery, which healthcare marketers will do well to target.
The other potential market comprises of the middle aged, who get out of the bed one day, look at their portly selves and realise that time is fast running out. Those approaching a midlife crisis crave for the days gone by and want to see what all they can salvage. A cosmetic surgeon is their last great hope. As India ages and becomes more affluent, this market segment will record phenomenal growth.
I believe that Cosmetic Surgery is a great area of opportunity and marketers will do well to focus and develop the market by educating customers, try and remove guilt from the matrix and encourage responsible surgery. There is nothing fundamentally wrong in the desire to look and feel good and Cosmetic Surgery can make a big difference.
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