"Confusion Marketing,” The Name of the Game In Today’s Hair Transplant Industry

Confusion marketing is actually a “thing.” It’s a tactic that has been used by many industries to create a state of mind that leads to consumers making imperfect purchasing decisions. Spencer Kobren speaks with IAHRS accepted member, Atlanta hair transplant surgeon, Ken Anderson, M.D. about the current devolving state of the hair transplant field and why it’s more difficult than it has ever been for consumers to navigate this minefield of misinformation.

Ken Anderson, MD: I got a little anecdote to start out with.

Spencer Kobren: I would like to hear that.

Ken Anderson, MD: I used to practice here in Beverly Hills. In 2008, I got a call from Emery University and an offer to co-practice in Atlanta, and so, I checked Atlanta out, as anybody would. Had a look at the players, Dr. Cole, of course, sitting to my left. There were a few other players there. There were, I think at the time, four, maybe five practices offering hair transplant surgery. And, in a city of about a little over five million people, I thought, "That's pretty good." It was pretty wide open.

I got a call, and that was 10 years ago. I got a call recently from a marketing firm. You know, the woman's on the phone, and she's offering me her digital marketing services, and to entice me to purchase her services, she says, "You know, Dr. Anderson, there are 125 hair transplant surgeons in Atlanta." I laughed. I said, "No, there's still five."

Spencer Kobren: Yeah.

Ken Anderson, MD: There's still five. There's 120 jokers who have a ... Who's got a device, and they've kind of slid in hair transplant surgery on their list of services, and they've got Sally, Jessie and Raphael over there, and they're working the machine. And, that's really what's going on.

I tell my patients now in consultation, I said, it's more dangerous and treacherous for the consumer, much more now than it was even just five years ago.

Spencer Kobren: Right.

Ken Anderson, MD: Because it's the inundation of the market with the companies selling their devices aggressively has really changed the landscape.

I remember I went down to Dr. Bauman's office to check out the NeoGraft device in 2000 ... It was the weekend after Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, and I was there, and I know Alan, and it was good to see him again at the time, and so I sat down. He was kind of giving a bit of a presentation, and he said, "Raise your hand," and this is the most unexpected question. He said, "Raise your hand if you've ever done a hair transplant."

I thought that was odd. I'm like, "Well, we're here to see a hair transplant device. What do you?" And to my amazement and shock, I was the only guy with my hand up. There was a psychiatrist from Minnesota, we had a med spa owner over here. I'm like, these are ... They've never ... And, how are they, why are they buying an advanced device to do something they have no experience with? That was a ... And now I see why. But, at the time, I was a little confused.

Spencer Kobren: Well, and that's the reality of what has ... How the industry has devolved, as I like to say. Sadly, it hasn't evolved, it's devolved.

We got to a certain point, from 1998 till about 2008 where things really were changing and really getting better, where physicians were, you know, I mean ... We've kind of created the economic pressure, physicians to grow their info structure, to meet state-of-the-art standards so they can do pure follicular unit transplantation.

I was able to speak to a lot of guys, or a few guys, a handful of guys like John Cole, who are willing to really experiment with FUE. I know you were one of the first guys to really take a look at it seriously, and I never forget when I spoke to both Bob Bernstein and Bill Rassman, and Bill and Bob said, "We've already tried it, it can't be done." I said, "Try it again. There's a guy in Australia who's doing it, I have another doctor who's willing to do it. We've been talking about it on the show. Consumers seem to really be interested in it. This could be a great ancillary procedure. Take a look."

Well, lo and behold, six months later, they put out the first paper on follicular unit extraction. And I'm glad that I made that happen, and I really pushed that. The problem is, there's such a low barrier to entry for FUE that it's created a lot of monsters. And it was my idea to kind of not ... I am not, and John doesn't like to hear me say this, because I'm not a doctor, either, but I'm not an FUE purist. I believe that there is still place for the right patient for FUT. I don't know how you feel about that.

Ken Anderson, MD: Absolutely. I offer both, and I kind of help the patients make up their own minds. I think that neither is a panacea. There is definitely still a place for linear strip surgery, but as you and John were talking about earlier, clearly, FUE is gaining in popularity.

But, patients are often surprised when I see them because of all the advertisements that are, you know, I mean, talking about scarless surgery. They're surprised to learn that I said, you know, if you're not making scars or creating scars, you're not doing surgery.

Spencer Kobren: Right.

Ken Anderson, MD: You can't.

Spencer Kobren: We cannot move this hair unless we cut your scalp.

Ken Anderson, MD: Yeah. And patients, some of them are confused, and they think that I don't know what I'm talking about, and they say, "Well, it said scarless," and it's creating a lot of confusion, a lot of unrealistic expectations. And, really, for guys like John and I, it creates a bit of a ... I'm sure you've had similar issues where we're trying to talk people's heads out of the clouds and get their expectations in line with what actually can be done.

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The International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons is a consumer organization that selectively screens skilled and ethical hair transplant surgeons. The IAHRS does not offer an open membership policy to doctors practicing hair transplatation, and is the only group that recognizes that all surgeons are not equal in their skill and technique. Its elite membership seeks to represent the best in the discipline, the true leaders in the field of surgical hair restoration.