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Creativity in health communications

Does the industry have the courage to push boundaries?
Creativity in health communications - Hona The Other Side commercial

Whenever I'm struggling for creative inspiration, I always take the most obvious step: I turn to Lady Gaga. Any woman man enough to perform at the MTV Awards wearing a prosthetic penis has obviously got an eye for headline-grabbing originality. It's a talent that's helped Brand Gaga amass a personal fortune of $80m and saw her recently named by Forbes as one of the most powerful celebrities in the world. It's clear that good creativity sells.

Gaga says that the job of the creative is to have 'mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex' with whatever idea they're developing. It's an interesting metaphor and one that many of us would love to indulge. But when it comes to creative communications, the pharmaceutical industry has often preferred to take precautions. The question is: at what cost?

In June this year, the inaugural Lions Health festival of marketing and communications creativity opted not to award a top Grand Prix prize in its pharmaceutical category. The decision did little to quell unfair accusations that the pharma industry lags behind others when it comes to communications creativity. That pharma picked up some high commendations is of little consolation - it's a case of close, but no cigar, and leaves pharma's creatives once again teetering, as Gaga might put it, on the Edge of Glory. So how can the industry secure its happy ending?

Okay, before we get too bogged down here, I know the score: creativity is not measured in awards and accolades - it's reflected in outcomes and brand success. And pharma companies have certainly had their lion's share of that. But do healthcare marketers care enough about creativity to test the very limits of originality and imagination? Or are they too easily held back by a protective sheath of restraint that prevents them pushing the boundaries and taking risks?

The creative community is emphatic: pharma unquestionably cares. “The industry is definitely concerned about creativity,” says Sarah Sowerby, founder at Wordbird. “Successful marketers fully understand that creativity is the magic wand that gets their message noticed and acted upon. I don't accept that pharma lags behind consumer and other industries - that's just not what I see.”

So is this a challenge of definition? Beyond the metaphorical magic wand, what exactly is creativity and how do we measure it? The answers are broad. “Some people wrongly say creativity is intangible, and that trying to measure it is like nailing jelly to a wall,” says Stuart Mayell, creative director, healthcare at Ruder Finn UK. “But creativity is a process, designed to interrogate a problem and deliver the best insights and ultimately solutions. So the best measures of creativity are the results an agency delivers for its clients.”

Chris Bartley, deputy managing director at Havas Life Medicom, believes that in the melee of online noise and competing multichannel communications, creativity has never been more important. “Creativity is critical to delivering effective communication. HCPs are increasingly bombarded with messages from a growing number of stakeholders and via more channels than ever before. Cutting through the noise starts with developing a 'big idea', and requires clarity, originality, consistency and stand-out design in its execution. The fundamentals of creativity have never been so important. Great creative delivers instant understanding of the problem and the solution on both an emotional and rational level. It's difficult to describe, but when you see it, you know - it's got that wow factor.”

It's a wow factor most commonly associated with advertising - but that perception is both narrow and limiting. Advertising does not have the monopoly on creativity - the process actually depends upon leveraging a tapestry of connections that spans the full gamut of stakeholders (both internal and external), channels and disciplines. “Creativity is not just 'the picture',” says Sarah Sowerby. “Creativity lives everywhere in pharma - it's in the way you analyse and think, the way you show your data, tell your story, the tone of voice you use, your media choices, how you help field forces and all the techniques you use to make it interesting. It's impossible to avoid creativity.”

Honda's campaign for its Civic and Type R vehicles is a "clever use of the medium to generate engagement while delivering a powerful message," says Loooped's Dick Dunford

Creativity, it seems, is a team sport. So why is it often played by individuals working in silos? “In the consumer world, there is a huge consolidation of agencies that work in groups,” says Dick Dunford, creative partner at Loooped. “Global brands like Nissan and British Airways have developed a culture where, even when they're working across different networks or with competitive agencies, people work much more closely together for the common good. In some parts of pharma, that's anathema. But in companies where engagement has crossed borders and united stakeholders, rather than fuelling work in isolation, marketing communications have become more efficient, more effective and, ultimately, much more creative.”

So the creative process is not just about outputs. Creative thinking is as important as creative delivery - and the industry may well benefit from adopting a more collaborative operational approach. But the key to success is insight - there is little point in being creative simply for the sake of it. “Pharmaceutical companies are rightly reticent of 'big ideas',” says Stuart Mayell. “Too often we ask clients to buy on gut-feel or a hunch that an idea is right. Agencies must base their creative strategies and ideas on insight and evidence. Only this will build the confidence necessary to make innovation the norm in healthcare communications. Pharmaceutical marketers need to make sure that all creative communications are rooted in understanding of the audience, not a particular channel. This will ensure that ideas cut through, messages hit home and behaviour is changed appropriately.”

Chris Bartley agrees: “Trying to be 'more creative' should never be part of the objective. Effective campaigns are built around understanding the brand, audience and the competition, using insights to identify an idea that speaks to the audience emotionally and rationally. However, great ideas are not enough on their own. How an idea is executed to work across different channels and media is equally important.”

The secret, says Sarah Sowerby, is the successful combination of idea and execution. “It is beyond question that engaging ideas, perfectly deployed, lead to greater effectiveness - and the IPA can provide huge amounts of evidence for this. However, it is also true that something can be really creative, but highly ineffective. Market research is an honest friend here.”

In fact it's often the execution that's the betrayer of creativity. “Pharma is full of creative people - but sometimes they come up with really strong, fresh ideas that get let down in the execution,” says Dick Dunford. “Conversely, there are other ideas that are more simplistic - but then the way that they are realised makes them truly remarkable. Successfully marrying idea and execution is the challenge. But it does happen. And, increasingly, pharma marketers are striving to push what can be done creatively.”

Examples of powerful healthcare creative are manifold. In its health and wellness category, the Lions Health festival awarded a Grand Prix to Kishokai Medical/Dentsu for Mother Book. The book, designed to help expectant mothers understand the evolving status of their baby, expands through the course of the 40-week gestation period. It's a simple concept, effectively and creatively executed using innovative paper technology. But the subjective nature of creativity - as well as the diverse judging criteria of individual awards ceremonies - means that accolades for artistic excellence are not uniformly received. Despite the unquestionable ingenuity of Mother Book, the campaign has fallen short of winning top prizes in some competitions because the product is only being delivered to a small, narrow customer group. The question of scalability adds another component to the already broad definition of creativity.

Mother Book, developed by Kishokai Medical/Dentsu

Whatever the definition, it's clear that agencies across the pharmaceutical industry have the talent and capacity to test the boundaries of creativity in the modern era. The question remains: does the industry itself have the courage to unlock it? Sylvia Plath said the biggest enemy of creativity is self-doubt, while Picasso said creativity's nemesis is 'good sense'. Whether it makes 'good sense' for the industry to indulge in 'mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex' with its creative ideas is probably unlikely. But, in a multichannel world full of opportunity, perhaps pharma companies could push a little bit harder and allow their creative juices to flow - without the need for a prosthetic penis.

In the words of Lady Gaga: just dance.

Article by
Chris Ross

is a freelance journalist specialising in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare

10th December 2014

From: Marketing

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