Branding is a term that is more commonly associated with marketing, not plastic surgery. However, the explosive growth of non-plastic surgery practitioners anxious and willing to provide plastic surgery services has increased the demand for cosmetic surgery patients. Whereas plastic surgeons were once found by word of mouth, marketing is now an important component of success, whether we like it or not.
Branding in plastic surgery takes traditional advertising one step further. A surgical procedure, which may be the same as or slightly different from a known, established procedure, is given a catchy name. That name is then heavily marketed.If enough marketing power (read money) is put behind it, this "new" technique may even find its' way to a television talk show like Oprah. At this point, it becomes a "must have" procedure, performed by only the best plastic surgeons.
Traditionally, new innovations in plastic surgery were presented at meetings or in journals and shared freely. When a procedure is branded, the rights to using it (or at least using the name) are licensed, and the entry fee for plastic surgeons is substantial. To protect against plastic surgeons who may want to borrow these techniques, the technical details are closely guarded and as such are never subjected to any scientific scrutiny or peer review.
The most outrageous example of how low branding can go was recently provided by the company 'Lifestyle Lift', who promotes their version of a facelift. This company has multiple locations across the U.S. and has branded what it claims to be a new procedure with better results and less down time than a traditional facelift when by all accounts it appears to be a minor variation on known techniques.
Lifestyle Lift was accused by the New York Attorney General's office of the fraudulent activity of "astroturfing", in which its' employees went to internet message boards and posed as satisfied customers with rave reviews for Lifestyle Lift. They also developed separate websites, such as myfaceliftstory.com, under the deception that they were independent websites created by satisfied customers. Lifestyle Lift settled the case for $300,000 in fines and agreed to refrain from such practices.
Other companies have branded technology, such as laser liposuction under the brand "Smart Lipo", suggesting that this was a new and improved version of liposuction, although there is no clear evidence that it is any better than existing techniques. At least they resisted partaking in any fraudulent internet activity.
If there is a lesson in all of this activity it is the old saw "Let the buyer beware." Potential patients should understand that branding in plastic surgery is a marketing ploy just as it is in any other business. They would be better served by choosing a plastic surgeon based on his or her credentials, reputation, and previous results, and then trust that they would be given a recommendation based on what would best suit their individual needs.