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The human connection: how to achieve emotive creativity in pharma

By Ian Ray

'Give me some goosebumps!’ ‘Make me some tears!’

As the public face of pharma continues to soften, we’ve seen increasing demand for creative work that offers a more ‘human’ expression of the brand.

This is a happy place for creative people and creatively-minded clients, who are all too ready to deliver work that’s ‘not too pharma’. And when it’s paired with a solid understanding of behaviour, creativity adds huge value to brands in oozing all that lovely warmth and relatability.

The best advertising has always been our shortcut to the emotive centre and that human connection we’re all looking for (maybe more so in these grim times). Why should pharma be any exception?

Just look at some of the work we’ve seen in recent years, where sharp, intelligent creative campaigns have made this connection – think Pfizer’s This is Living with Cancer or ViiV Healthcare’s U=U. This is well-crafted, above- product storytelling that has given time and care to the authentic presentation of people’s lives.

These brands have consciously taken a back seat to the patient experience and let creative agencies do what they do best. But getting it right is tough. And it’s all too easy to undermine your intention by being too treacly or sanctimonious (and doing
your patients a disservice while you’re at it).

We’ve been acutely aware of this balancing act in our own work; a recent film we worked on for prostate cancer was inspired by a near-universal truth that the lines of communication with our parents can become more tangled and complex as we grow up.

With this as our starting point, we introduced messaging about the importance of starting a conversation with fathers about prostate cancer, but we checked ourselves time and again to ensure we weren’t overplaying our hand. We had to remember that we’re talking about people’s relationships with their parents here, and there had to be some room for our audience to bring some emotional content of their own.

There’s another question hanging over this kind of creative work that’s bigger and harder to answer. Are we reaching the point where audiences are tired of having their heartstrings pulled? I remember stories of ‘compassion fatigue’ in third sector communications and often wonder if we run the risk of the same kind of saturation point in our work.

There’s a paradox here in that if everyone aspires to be ‘less pharma’ in the same way, then well-intentioned emotive content will all start to feel ‘very pharma’ before long. Creativity always finds a way, of course, and our hope is that we’ll start to see a more rounded picture of the human experience emerge.

Our lives aren’t entirely defined by the tough times, and surely there’s room for more creative campaigns that are unafraid to tap into other thoughts and feelings, like the anger many feel about the health injustices and inequities taking place in the world.

As a generation of ever more conscientious, purpose-driven consumers emerges, will we see their frustration, or their bitterness, reflected in communication, alongside the standard stock imagery of optimism? We could also really do with some more humour, couldn’t we? It doesn’t easily translate across international boundaries, but surely we can try?

I’d defy anyone not to watch British Heart Foundation’s ‘Boy’ without a smile forming on their face as they listen to ‘serious’ messaging executed with such irresistible charm. Humour really can form that instant connection, and – as we see so often with consumer brands – something funny and shareable will propel a campaign way beyond its expected audience.

We have something in the works that will really push what we can do with humour; we want to confront a health taboo with an honest reflection of its total awkwardness. Early scripts for a campaign film made our client laugh out loud and we really hope it’ll do the same for its audience and help people lighten up before things get serious.

Let’s see what happens in testing, but we’ve already found that it’s harder to generate gags than goosebumps (as anyone who’s seen a stand-up set bomb will attest to). But when it works, humour can be stickier and even more successful in humanising a brand.

We’re fortunate to have a client who can see how laughing along can sometimes be the best way to land a life-saving message. Ultimately, this is where the value of creativity will always be – in bringing a richer, more diverse humanity to brands.

Ian Ray is Associate Creative Director at Pegasus, an Ashfield company, part of UDG Healthcare

In association with

18th November 2020

From: Marketing

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