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Humancomms for humancare?

Paul Hutchings, founder of fox&cat, writes on the role of humour in healthcare comms: PharmaComms 2023

There are more human emotions than sadness and teary relief – so should pharma companies expand their emotional repertoire a little? With humour, dare we say?

It’s PharmaComms 2023, Tuesday 21st March and a prestigious panel is on the stage, discussing the delicate balance of emotion, data and practicality in pharma comms campaigns.

We’ve just heard from Clare Stafford, Director of Communications at Holland & Barrett, who has presented a fantastic case study detailing the health & wellness store’s recent gut health campaign – which naturally involved the always amusing topic of defecation, so amusement remains in the air.

Back to the panel, though – three senior comms officers from Sanofi, GSK and Takeda, as well as an agency director, talking about becoming better storytellers. Emotion, they all agree, is just as vital as the data and insights that inform a campaign. “What about humour?” somebody in the audience asks. “We can’t do humour,” replies one of the panellists. “It’s frowned upon.”

There’s an instant yet subtle reaction from the audience. Minds that had been wandering snap their attention back to the stage. “No humour at all?” some of us are thinking. “But if we’re being more human in our comms, for companies who themselves are becoming increasingly human in how they both talk and treat, surely humour – and the emotions it triggers – is a major part of that humanness?”

It's an interesting one – and becomes more interesting later, when a speaker from NHS England says that humour is not something people want from them. But humour is a broad spectrum, surely, and there’s certainly a whole lot more to it than faecal matter. And there are times when it will never be relevant.

The emotions created by humour – happiness, joy, amusement, hilarity – can manifest in an inner smile at a particularly observant insight, a little chuckle at oneself, a laugh in the face of misfortune or an unstoppable smile brought to one’s lips by someone randomly smiling at you.

These are all moments experienced by all of us sometimes – moments that lift our day just a little bit and make life look a little warmer and rosier. And if healthcare comms campaigns can harness those, every campaign will engage more people and spread its message further and more memorably.

So maybe humour is the wrong word to use. Maybe we just don’t name it at all and instead concentrate on finding more ways to bring a little joy to the big, (sometimes) bad world.

27th March 2023



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