The Surgery: Creating magical healthcare comms
by Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) Someone close to me was recently very ill. As in seven hours of surgery and more tubes than you could possibly imagine. At a similar time, a friend had a baby. A complex, scary, ‘ends in an emergency’ kind of baby. Both of these families had happy endings, but these are the times when you remember just how mind-blowing modern medicine is.
We go through our daily lives hoping to avoid such interactions but, when one is forced upon you, it is all you can do not to shed tears of awe while you watch these professionals do their jobs. They are, simply put, magicians. It is a shame, then, that the advertising which markets so many of the tools of this trade so often lacks any such magic.
Boring and painful
We page past bland, smiling stock-photo kind of gigs, and TVCs with smiley parents watching kids on a ferris wheel against a Disneyesque backdrop. The music tinkles on in a classical drawl reminiscent of lift music in three-star hotels, and the closeups are just a bit too close to be comfortable. It’s not just boring; it’s painful — and surely healthcare comms, of all comms, should be pain free? (Pun intended. Totally intended.)
There are many reasons that the majority of this work is still so average. Yes, there are 19 pages of Ts & Cs, and, yes, 15” seconds of your 30” spot contains “mitigation information” (that covers eight pages of a client’s brief!), and, yes, you speak to legal often more than your marketing client. These are realities of the healthcare business.
A few months ago (just before resigning but I promise this was unrelated!), I developed 29 versions of a 15” script — 20 of which were rewritten by “Ben” in R&D, who was excellent at science and much less excellent at understanding he wasn’t actually a copywriter.
So, yes, these are all fair and just reasons that you may find a motive not to create good work, and instead sneak back to the far less healthy and “much more fun” beer account.
Worth getting excited about
However, as your create work in the healthcare space, you know you are offering something that your audience needs more than any other ad may ever offer them. You are selling that one thing that we, the human race, need to survive. It’s an important job, right? Surely, of all the briefs you could work on, communicating healthcare — our most-precious human asset — is one worth getting excited about?
Maybe you’ll win an award, and maybe you won’t but, as Gandhi so wisely said, “it is health that is the real wealth, and not pieces of gold or silver.” I suspect he may not have been familiar with Southern French award festival medals when he stated such wisdom; his advice is valid, nevertheless.
So I urge you to relook healthcare. Take off that ‘straight-out-of-school’ team to whom you “set a challenge”, and instead put your creative directors back on. Make them think; make them sweat; make them read the Ts & Cs. Offer them the chance to make magic.
Healthcare clients may not be for everyone but certainly healthcare is. After all, when did you last make an ad that got over 4 602 345 views?
Mimi Nicklin (@MimiNicklin) has spent a decade in the advertising industry working across global brands in Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa, mainly within WPP. She most recently led GlaxoSmithKline business as global VP for Grey Group, based in Singapore. She relocated back to South Africa recently as a marketing consultant and to found her own business, www.merakicode.net, in integrated health and yoga therapy, inspired by her time in the east. Her regular MarkLives column, “The Surgery”, tracks consumer healthcare communications to drive awareness and passion for this growing creative and dynamic consumer industry within Africa and beyond.