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Podiatrist believes in (gross) truth in advertising

Clearwater podiatrist Fred Kussel, examining a patient’s feet, bought a $70,000 laser this year for use on fungus. A machine like that deserved a strong ad campaign, he figured.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Clearwater podiatrist Fred Kussel, examining a patient’s feet, bought a $70,000 laser this year for use on fungus. A machine like that deserved a strong ad campaign, he figured.

The digit is crusty and ridged and thick, splayed out on billboards and newsprint with a message:

TOE NAIL FUNGUS

It's a medical condition that needs treating, and doctors are advertising for those services. What could be the big deal abou . . .

The disgusting picture in the fungus toe ad is not only hurting the advertiser's image and business but is also hurting the rest of the advertising companies sharing the same and adjacent pages. I am one of those readers/customers who quickly pass the page to avoid seeing the nasty image.

Oh.

Well, the toe fungus advertisements in the St. Petersburg Times and tbt* drawing skeeved­-out letters to the editor come from a few places. There's one from Nail'n'Toe, featuring an ugly, peeling toe alongside a set of perfectly pedicured ones. And there's one from the office of Dr. Fred Kussel, a Clearwater podiatrist who offers a laser therapy to fight fungus.

Sounds good, right? Surely not many people would care that . . .

Be aware . . . you probably will see complaints from your clients if they find out the fungus ad is having a negative impact in their business as well. Drop that lack-of-creativity ad campaign and do us readers/customers a favor, please.

People are historically freaked out by feet. There's a legitimate fear called podophobia, but more generally they give people the creeps (when they're not giving them a fetish). Toes cower in shoes all day, sweaty and dirty and gross. They look weird, too. There is a Facebook group called "I Hate Feet" with more than 100,000 fans. 30 Rock character Liz Lemon is an avowed hater of her feet. She once found a gray hair on her "toe knuckle."

Kussel recently got an e-mail from someone congratulating him on his "horrible, low class fungus pic." It concluded with, "Glad you're not treating genital warts."

Kussel is 42, a married father of four young kids. He got into feet because he liked the variety in a single set of dogs. He could do dermatology, vascular and orthopedic work, surgery. And there's the issue of toenail fungus, which can lead to nail loss, infections and amputation.

About eight months ago, Kussel bought a $70,000 CoolTouch laser for his practice, new technology that's effective for fungus without oral medication but not yet FDA approved. He invested in a top-of-the-line model, and decided to devote the same philosophy to his advertising.

"Because it was so expensive, we were going to go big or go home," he said. "The only people making money this year are the advertisers and the laser company."

He reviewed photos of his clients' toes. There were two options. Ugly foot. Pretty foot.

The doctor wanted the ugly foot. He showed both pictures to his wife, Tania. She voted for pretty foot. To break the tie, she brought both pictures to her group of six work lunch buddies.

"They unanimously voted for the ugly foot," Kussel said.

A patient agreed to let his foot become famous as long as his identity stayed secret. Kussel paid for the patient's $699 laser procedure, the standard cost for treatment on two feet. The billboard went up, nasty toe spread large for the masses. The ad went into the papers.

Kussel hoped to reach people who actually have toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, who have been hiding in water socks and Crocs at the beach. They don't talk about it. But if they drive by the sign or flip to a page in the newspaper, they'd identify. That's my toe!

Kussel has seen hundreds of patients since he started advertising, proving that some people don't mind it at all.

Even some letter writers.

I am so "shocked" that someone is offended. A toe fungus ad by far has been the funniest thing that has "offended" someone. Sometimes I think people complain about things just to hear themselves on a soapbox. Get a life.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Podiatrist believes in (gross) truth in advertising 11/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 6:14pm]
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