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The Great Moon Hoax and today's dental marketing

Oct. 20, 2021
The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 achieved its goal of gaining readers for The New York Sun. But honesty is the best bet for today's dentists who want to connect with their patients online.

In August 1835, Americans awoke to the news that life had been discovered on the moon! The New York Sun published a series of six articles depicting the tales of Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer at the time.1 According to the articles penned by Dr. Andrew Grant, a possible colleague of Herschel, the astronomer had traveled to Capetown, South Africa, and set up an observatory with his telescope. 

Throughout his observations, Herschel noted evidence of life on the moon. Life forms such as unicorns and two-legged beavers were found in areas with lush forests and giant crystals and stones. These magical descriptions of the moon’s surface and wildlife captured readers’ imaginations. Even Yale scientists were hooked! But the information turned out to be just that . . . magic and fantasy. 

While the newspaper originally stated that the articles were reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, this information was later revealed to be false. The entire content of the articles, including Dr. Grant’s character, was untrue. The actual writer is assumed to be Richard Adams Locke, who probably wrote the articles as a fictional response to more serious speculations about alien life. 

Prior to publishing the articles, the New York Sun was considered a penny press newspaper that attracted an audience by using a narrative style of journalism. Although the New York Sun’s articles about life on the moon proved to be false, the writer captured his readers’ attention. He knew how to create a story and engage with his audience.

That is great storytelling. Welcome to marketing!

Storytelling is marketing

Marketing is not just creating advertisements about your practice. Marketing includes understanding your patients’ needs, creating a story to capture their attention, and engaging with them. Storytelling establishes a deep connection with your audience and can be a strategic tool in your toolbox to engage with patients.2 One of the hardest things for many dentists is to tell that story on the patients’ level. Simply knowing how to communicate with patients, especially outside of the treatment room, can be difficult. But engagement doesn’t have to be challenging.

In today’s social media-driven world, there are a host of tools at your fingertips. Simply pick up your smartphone. From Facebook to Instagram to YouTube, you can choose your storytelling platform. Choose one where you feel the most confident and move forward from there.

Fake online dental reviews: Are you a victim?

Be yourself and be honest

While the New York Sun used fantasy and satire to capture their audience, you need to steer clear of false claims. Patients want dentists they can trust, someone they can count on to be honest who can put them at ease, not someone who tells non-truths. Engage with your clients honestly. Storytelling is a way to show off your brand and let patients get to know more about you, who you are, what your practice stands for, and what you have to offer. You can share your vision, make your content more cohesive, and create brand loyalty. What’s your story? What sets your practice apart from others? Tell your story and capture their attention.

Show your human side

Storytelling adds a human element to marketing to capture audience attention. Yes, we know dentists are human too, but to patients, you are smart, powerful, and slightly intimidating. While you’re a professional and an expert, you’re also human. Social media and patient engagement show your personal side. With social media, you have the opportunity for conversations with your patients. With likes, shares, and comments, you can respond and share information. Not only does this show your human side, but it also provides potential patients with valuable content and resources. 

If you’re thinking, “My patients are older, so they’re not online,” think again! Studies have shown that nearly 90% of baby boomers and older adults rely on the internet and social media for health information.3 Your patients, no matter their age, are on social media. You should be too.

Use video

Videos, whether on social media or YouTube clips, are a powerful tool in the proverbial marketing toolbox. In digital marketing, videos are a way to capture patient attention quickly and easily.4 People often stop scrolling when they see images or videos. The use of video is a simple way to generate interest and provide information.

Video is a quick attention grabber, with over 300 hours of YouTube content uploaded per second and eight million Facebook videos viewed in 2016.5 If you’re not sure where to start, how to tell a story, or how to engage, try recording a brief video that simply talks about a new procedure or dental topic that you find fascinating. Post it and go from there.

Additionally, you can show off your team, office, state-of-the-art equipment, and practice location through crisp professional photos and a Google 360 tour. With a 360 tour, you provide patients with insights and information about your practice and show patients who you are. A lot of your competitors don’t do this. Is there a common question or concern that your patients have? Post a video to answer the question or address the concern. Meet that need but capture viewer attention through your video storytelling.

“Likes” aren’t enough

Being a social media influencer is not your ultimate goal. Engaging with patients, capturing their attention, and turning prospects into actual patients is your goal. For the New York Sun, the story of the great moon hoax captured reader attention. It hooked them. Newspaper sales soared and the continued high-quality journalism and storytelling kept readers coming back. 

Generating likes and followers is not the end point for social media and storytelling success. Your storytelling captures attention and brings in patients. Now, you must seal the deal. Your social media interactions are meant to be engaging and to encourage users to visit your website to learn more about you. You want to give them a reason to learn more and keep coming back. 

Must you use social media? Of course not. That’s your choice. Is social media a simple and important way to create patient engagement in this digital age? Yes. Storytelling and engagement capture patients, plain and simple. Many of your competitors are online engaging and communicating with patients. You should be too. Now’s the time to up your marketing game and interact with patients. Capture their hearts and minds and then reel them in.

The great moon hoax was a hook to bring in more readers and increase sales. What’s your hook?


  1. “The Great Moon Hoax” is published in the “New York Sun.” History. Last updated August 24, 2020. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-great-moon-hoax
  2. Whitler KA. 3 reasons why storytelling should be a priority for marketers. Forbes. July 14, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2018/07/14/3-reasons-why-storytelling-should-be-a-priority-for-marketers/
  3. eHealth literacy and web 2.0 health information seeking behaviors among baby boomers and older adults. J Med Internet Res. March 17, 2015. https://www.jmir.org/2015/3/e70/
  4. Coker KK, Flight RL, Baima DM. Skip it or view it: The role of video storytelling in social media marketing. Mktg Mgmt J. Fall 2017. MMA Global. http://www.mmaglobal.org/publications/MMJ/MMJ-Issues/2017-Fall/MMJ-2017-Fall-Vol27-Issue2-Coker-Flight-Baima-pp75-87.pdf
  5. Simply Measured’s 2016 state of social marketing report. July 7, 2016. Social Media Week. https://socialmediaweek.org/blog/2016/07/simply-measureds-2016-state-social-marketing-report/

This article originally appeared in DE Weekend newsletter. To subscribe visit dentaleconomics..com/subscribe.

Lamar Hull, MBA, is the founder of Med Rank Interactive, a full-service digital marketing agency  that specializes in local SEO exclusively for dentistsorthodontistspharmacists, independent physicians, and multi-location medical practices. Hull has an MBA in internet marketing and uses much of his time learning new strategies in online marketing and health care. He attended Davidson College where he played basketball for Bob McKillop.

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