Leveraging creativity in healthcare advertising

By Ryan Wallman*
Wednesday, 12 September, 2018

Leveraging creativity in healthcare advertising

As a creative professional in the healthcare industry, I sometimes feel like “a man with a fork in a world of soup” (to quote Noel Gallagher, of Oasis fame). After all, healthcare advertising is not always an area associated with great creativity.

Before we get to the reasons for that — and what we can do about it — it’s worth considering why creativity matters in the first place.

Creativity is a mercurial concept. And because it’s not easy to measure, it tends to be a source of bum-clenching anxiety for financial people. Despite this, there is some pretty convincing evidence to demonstrate the value of creativity.

The table further below is from a 2014 study by Admap, based on an analysis of more than 1500 case studies, which ranked the top 10 factors that drive advertising profitability.

As you can see, creative execution was the second largest contributor to advertising profitability after market size. In other words, it was more important than nearly everything else.

This finding was echoed in a 2017 Nielsen analysis of advertising effectiveness, based on nearly 500 campaigns across all media platforms. In this analysis, creative quality was easily the most important factor for generating sales, contributing more than double the next highest factor.

It’s clear, then, that creativity is more than just ‘colouring in’ — it can deliver real marketing outcomes and is a vital contributor to the success of advertising in general. But as you know, health care is a unique area. So what ails healthcare advertising specifically?

Regulation undoubtedly plays a part. Don’t get me wrong: healthcare claims must be supported with evidence — this is in everyone’s interest, and has led to the strict regulatory environment that we work in today. But I think it has also created a system that can be counterproductive to good creative work.

What I mean is that there is an inevitable clash of priorities when scientifically minded people evaluate something that is, at least partly, an art. And expecting this process to produce great creative work is a bit like expecting your accountant to provide your tax return in the form of an interpretive dance.

That’s an exaggeration, of course, but you get my point. While a little over-analysis may be no bad thing when assessing the appropriateness of medical claims, it can be poison for good creative work. It has the potential to overcomplicate and dilute creative effectiveness.

So with that in mind, how can we give healthcare advertising a shot in the arm?

First, it’s important to remember that for all the complexities and compromises of healthcare advertising, the single most important rule is that it must be noticed. Health care is not immune to the principles of good advertising, after all.

One very effective way to get your advertising noticed is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing: “when the world zigs, zag”, to use a classic advertising maxim. The following campaign for a medical conference symposium, by CDM London, neatly demonstrates this approach.

Second, consider using humour. Because health care is generally a serious business, people tend to shy away from the use of humour, but laughter can be effective medicine. As GK Chesterton once said: “Humour can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle.”

Take this ad, for example.

And third, try to avoid the temptation of complication.

Research by Millward Brown has shown that the more messages an ad attempts to communicate, the lower the likelihood of any single message actually being communicated to the recipient. Accordingly, the most memorable ads communicate only one message.

In other words, there is power in simplicity, as demonstrated by this recent campaign from McCann Health Brazil.

As these examples show, creativity can challenge the conventions of healthcare advertising.

This is not to say that such creativity is easy, but we should certainly strive for it. As CDM Worldwide Creative Director Oliver Caporn says: “A car can never compete, a supermarket can only dream of the raw impact of a healthcare brand on a patient’s quality of life. We are lucky to be a part of this sector.”

Health care is hugely important, so let’s give it the creativity it deserves.

Image credit: ©Michael Kai

*Dr Ryan Wallman is Associate Creative Director at Wellmark, a Melbourne-based creative agency that specialises in health care. With more than a decade’s experience in healthcare marketing, he develops communications for a wide range of clients and audiences.

Dr Wallman is an internationally acclaimed copywriter and marketing commentator. He has written for numerous industry publications, including Marketing Week, Advertising Health, Australian Financial Review and The Economic Times. He is also a co-author of the upcoming book ‘Eat Your Greens: Fact-Based Thinking to Improve Your Brand’s Health’.

Top image: Jewelled kidneys from the McCann Health Brazil campaign.

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