Wanted: Creatives who care

We are all calorie-counting, device-wearing, label-reading, sugar-avoiding, Fitness Pal addicts. Our current obsession with the quantified self shows just how much we are embracing health in our day-to-day lives. I get a bubble of excitement when my Fitbit buzzes at 10,000 steps and have been known to march up and down my apartment to make up the last few!

So if everybody is getting into health then it makes sense that brands are getting into it too. What was once a trickle has now turned into a land grab for brands to try to fit in and claim a place in the new territories of health and wellness. And, of course, where brands go, so do their advertising agencies. More and more non-health agencies are enthusiastically pursuing health and wellness clients. And who can blame them? Healthcare alone is generating over $1 trillion in revenue and that’s not counting a potentially even bigger health and wellness industry.

“All too often I meet creatives who feel that health has a lower creative bar than non-health and they don’t really need to try”

But are the creatives as excited about ‘following the money’ as their agencies are? Experience is telling me not.

All too often I meet creatives who feel that health has a lower creative bar than non-health and they don’t really need to try. I once met a creative at a judging who said, “Aren’t we lucky to be in healthcare, no-one else wants to be in this space so we can’t be fired – It’s a bit like retirement.” I was horrified.

When I first started exploring the health space I saw it as an opportunity to do something new – it felt a bit like when I first started in digital in the early ’90s (no one thought that had much of a great creative future either). I really liked the idea of being able to help people make better decisions about their health – after all I had been having the equivalent of these conversations with my Dad for years: pill burden, symptoms, discussing side effects (he read everything) and “talking to his doctor”. It gave me the chance to continue this conversation with other real people. Since then I’ve learned that healthcare marketing can change and improve people’s lives. Basically I see my job as not just about selling products, but helping to educate and clarify by using authentic storytelling, metaphors and everyday language to enable someone I know to understand their health. The doctor does the rest.

A call to arms

So this is a call to arms for all those new creatives getting their ‘big break’ in health. Yes, it can be enormously challenging and you will have to keep thinking and changing and re-crafting your ideas – but hey, isn’t that what being a good creative is all about? We are the sabre tooth tiger in the closing credits of the Flintstones being put out at the front door and heading back in through the window again and again and again.

If you really think about it, consumer healthcare advertising is only 17 years old; it has not even come of age. Think about what traditional advertising was like when it was just 17 – I looked it up: that was when the first ever Mr. Clean ad ran, and look how much advertising has changed since then.

As creatives working in the healthcare space we need to remember this and not settle for the status quo. We need to tackle every brief, not just as an opportunity to do the best work possible, but to push and help redefine what our industry could become and the unique opportunity we have to change and improve people’s lives. We need to be constantly asking ‘why do we do it this way?’

For instance, at the moment we are asking ‘why does the safety information in every advertising message always have to be this way?’ Could it be an infographic? Could it be an audio file when it’s online? Could it be written better? How can it be easier to understand? Because when it is easier it helps everyone. We also need to stop thinking about regulatory requirements and the FDA as the enemies of creativity and instead nurture a working partnership to figure out how we can make our messaging clearer and better for real people. This is the biggest difference for creatives coming into health and the point at which many stumble and give up. It is ‘too hard’ to do a great idea only to have it ‘ruined’ by MLR. This is the real challenge, and certainly not right for everyone, but if you get it and put the work in, it really is worth it.

“You need to get inside the person and care. Over the years I have found that, nine times out of 10, a condition (unfortunately) often has relevance to you or someone you know and love”

To do this job successfully requires a creative to be less self-serving, less unbending and more authentic. In short, I believe to tell the right stories you need to get inside the person and care. Over the years I have found that, nine times out of 10, a condition (unfortunately) often has relevance to you or someone you know and love. I put those people in front of me and think about how I can help them. What’s the best advice I could give them? What resources do they need? Then turn that into advertising that hopefully makes a difference. For the first half of my career all I cared about was doing great ads and winning awards (I’m a creative, I still do and you’ll have found me at the inaugural Cannes Healthcare this year, where we’ve hopefully seen a new bar being set for creativity in this industry). But ultimately, when someone writes to you and says, ‘Thank you, you really understood what it is to be me’ – that’s an award you can really care about.

 

About the author:

Jacqueline Nolan is EVP executive creative director, Digitas Health LifeBrands. She has a passion for new ideas, whether that is creative, media or business. This constant drive for innovation has helped her lead the way in creating truly integrated agencies that drive business and creative excellence.

Originally from London, Jac is currently based in New York where she is running the Digitas Health New York creative offering as executive creative director.

Jac has a real passion for her craft, which has helped her win nearly 30 creative awards and more than 100 as a creative director. She has also sat on numerous judging panels in the UK and US including: Campaign, Clio Healthcare, D&AD, DMA, Echos, ISP, John Caples, MM&M and MCCA.