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What's the big idea?

Adrian Parr talks about the power of unique insight

Adrian ParrThe difficulty in writing this piece is the statement I have been asked to write against: 'The interview or opinion piece should focus on the power of ideas, and they would like it to address the following; healthcare advertising claims to be adopting a consumer/ emotive approach to its campaigns, however in reality creative talent claims it is restricted by regulations and a reliance on market research. Many creative ideas may not make it past the first pillar of concept testing by GPs, intrinsic to the industry. Can you provide opinion on this and your feelings on how it can be addressed?'

When you read it back, you realise that the statement says nothing new and that this argument has been raging on for years. I could very easily have taken the stance of the man at the bar and opened a can of worms by blaming everyone and everything for the creative's unhappy lot. A sort of "the job would be great if it wasn't for the clients/ market research/legislation" piece.

Having worked within this industry for some 15 years, I cannot entirely devolve myself and act independently by preaching an 'Oi you lot, get more creative' standpoint. I have been guilty – not as guilty as most I might add – but nonetheless guilty, of taking a fairly bad brief and trying to make something of it.

The third line of the summary for this article, which reads: "Many creative ideas may not make it past the first pillar of concept testing by GPs, intrinsic to the industry" is my fundamental issue when writing this. Our industry is massively guilty of confusing an execution with an idea. An idea is not a picture or a headline or even a strap-line. These are manifestations of an idea.

Neither is it a TV commercial, an A4 single pager, double-page spread or website. These are channels that the idea sits in.

Idea comes first
An idea is an original thought that leaves its indelible mark on our minds and an idea comes first; before any execution takes place.

Without an idea, brand communications become exactly that. They may well have beautifully crafted, witty headlines and edgy photography, but they are soulless and forgettable.

It is little wonder that many creative ideas may not make it past the first pillar of concept testing by GPs. More often than not, there is no idea behind the communication and so the communication fails.

A unique insight
In order to create an idea, first you need a unique insight, ie an insight based on an unimpeachable truth, which only that particular brand owns. This is how consumer advertising behaves as well. You then build your idea around that insight and it becomes the one thing the brand represents in the hearts and minds of your audience. What you do with the idea is entirely up to you. You could execute it in an ad format, you could send it out as a viral, you could even turn it into a detail aid, but the idea's DNA will be present in whatever manifestation it takes.

If healthcare is guilty of anything, it is its lack of imagination and apathy. That is not a slight on just the creative side of our industry, but the industry as a whole. A unique insight is often hard to find, if looked for at all.

Healthcare tends to play safe and go with acceptable established insights that merely scrape the surface. Yes, they may have taken a consumer approach to finding an insight, but rarely is the insight unique. We just don't seem to look hard enough. That means that when we begin to build our ideas, they start from a fairly muted environment.

One insight that has been a staple for years is, 'Freedom from...' Freedom is totally appropriate in some cases – just not all of them. The problem here is that it is approvable and generally does well in market research focus groups. It does well because it doesn't challenge on any level. When the insight is 'freedom', the creative department generally opts to show the flip side, ie the disease before freedom kicks in. Nine times out of ten, the concept fails. Why? Because the insight was not strong or unique enough to carry the execution.

While on this subject, may I add that creative departments get frustrated because they want to do edgy ads. They want to take a charity approach to a brand and use shock visuals that describe the disease. Yes, it makes for award winning ads and yes, you can 'sex up' a disease area, but just how relevant is this communication if you are preaching to the converted? Doctors know what a patient with schizophrenia does all day, so the only person it resonates with is the creative team. Prescribers are very aware of symptoms in a disease area, what they are looking for are viable options for treating the disease.

Collecting good quality market research before creative briefs are written is essential. It should contain information and insights that a planner can use to inform the creative and thus help fuel the process. Then, once the creative team has the idea, all they are doing is testing the tone. If the insight is unique and the idea emphasises that uniqueness, then the execution will be informed and resonate with your audience. It can also be confidently supported by agency and brand teams alike.

I have seen so many executions torn to shreds in market research because there was no idea or the execution did not match what the idea was trying to achieve. Research bombing not only frustrates a creative department, it has a direct impact on a brand team.

Research tends to test executions and not ideas. Why not try writing sentences and mood boards when market researching ideas without the baggage of executional problems such as tone, type and visuals? It gets you to a place where, when you start executing, the foundations are already in place. Far too many research and focus groups look to executions, usually DPS ad spreads. The very fact that this medium may not be appropriate for the idea to live in is completely forgotten.

So agencies may well be adopting a more consumer approach; tapping into the emotions of prescribers is to be applauded. Notice I used the words "emotions of prescribers", not their patients. The use of consumer tools to do so is also highly commendable and totally logical.

Industry restrictions
The restrictions in what we can say and how we can say it have always existed and that is what makes this such a great industry to work in. I truly believe that if you change the minds of a prescriber with a compelling, imaginative, unexpectedly relevant piece of communication, as witnessed in many of the shortlisted entries in this year's IPA Best of Health Awards, you are a true creative and worthy of your place next to any of the best consumer writers or art directors. The restrictions are there for us to work with and that should be what makes us tick.

When you have a big idea to work with, suddenly the restrictions are nowhere near as restrictive as without one.

Check out the list of IPA finalists and eventual winners.

The Author
Adrian Parr has over 15 years' experience as a creative in a healthcare environment. He joined Torre Lazur McCann as creative director in early 2009 after being creative director-art at Paling Walters for four years. Adrian has also held the positions of creative director at Ogilvy Healthworld and head of art at Paling Walters. He writes in his capacity as Convenor of Judges for the IPA Best of Health Awards 2009.

28th July 2009

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