When advertising Speaks People, people listen. Because no matter the audience, a simple, straightforward ad always has the best chance of getting a message across. Even doctors agree. How do we know? We recently joined forces with The Harris Poll to explore how primary care physicians (PCPs) perceive and react to healthcare advertising, what aspects of advertising motivate them, and how they prefer to be spoken to.

We’ve long suspected that our Speak People approach—focusing on driving meaningful healthcare conversations—is on point, relevant, and effective across physician, patient, and payer audiences. Key findings from the online Harris Poll survey among 302 U.S. PCPs corroborate this belief and support the notion that insights and language matter. Of the doctors polled, 76% say they prefer that companies use simple language, 79% understand how people can be confused by advertising messages, and as for themselves:

  • 51% sometimes don’t understand what’s being communicated
  • 39% sometimes get confused by an ad’s message
  • 35% sometimes are overwhelmed by advertising language

Fortunately, findings from the poll also highlight the fundamentals of communication that seem to be essential for successfully reaching PCPs:

Simplicity is the Secret

Practical ideas with a creative twist may be what doctors would order if they could prescribe advertising that would catch their eye. What would that look like? How would it sound? Current FDA guidelines for print advertising encourage creativity and simplicity. Although their advice is sound, it’s also, like any regulatory guidance, a bit difficult for patients, office staff, and even physicians to navigate. But take heart! Try these five tips for following the guidelines and genuinely connecting with your audiences:

  1. Take a conversational tone—in other words, speak to your audience as if you were face-to-face. The guidelines encourage consumer-friendly language for all consumer-directed materials, and that simply makes sense. You’re speaking to a broad range of people with varying levels of literacy skills. Keep it simple and you’ll see more success.
  2. Get better at prioritizing and editing—know what the reader really needs to know. Yes, the consumer brief summary must disclose risks and side effects. But emphasize serious and common ones and omit less pertinent information. Too much can be as detrimental to understanding as too little, so try to strike a balance between the fine print and the focal points.
  3. Establish a design and information hierarchy—it’s as much about how you say it as what you say. Help focus your audiences’ eyes on the meat of your ad with headings, subheads, boldface, or color. These elements serve as signals that make it easier for readers to identify what’s most important for them to take away.
  4. Show more white space—a too-crowded ad can be as off-putting as a too-crowded party. Leaving blank background space (called white space) around paragraphs of copy improves readability. Try double-spacing copy, indenting occasionally, and using bullets rather than solid blocks of type to help readers find and focus on key information.
  5. Offer new thinking—take the rules and run. Even the FDA encourages thinking outside the guidelines box. Their examples are just that: Examples, not mandatory policies. As long as your advertising satisfies the requirements of the statute and the regulations, creative alternatives are more than acceptable—they’re actually welcomed.

Creativity Matters

Advertising can be entertaining. We know that and evidently, so do PCPs, because 6 out of 10 said they enjoy being entertained by advertising. When asked about ads they had liked in the past, they mentioned those that were funny (62%), creative (51%), or unique (49%). When asked their opinion on creativity itself, they described it as an admirable trait (97%) that can’t be learned (49%). Not surprisingly then, many PCPs consider themselves creative (65%) and wish they had more freedom to be creative in their professional life (68%) and their personal life (75%).

Head Wins Over Heart for Most PCPs

Like the rest of us, PCPs exhibit diverse, and sometimes competing, character traits that affect how they react to an advertisement. Most say it’s important to collaborate with others (74%) and be open to others’ opinions (87%) even though 59% believe it’s important for them to be a leader and 66% say they are often not swayed by what others think. So, when PCPs make decisions about healthcare advertising—and 77% say they make decisions easily—which rules: Head or heart? The head, by a good measure. Although 66% say they openly express their emotions, fully 83% say they typically make decisions with their head, not their heart; 80% consider themselves more analytical than emotional; and 74% prefer practical ideas over imaginative ones.

Successful advertising isn’t rocket science. But it’s more than rock/paper/scissors. Keep in mind what you’ve read here and use the tips provided. Whatever customer your brand is engaging, whether PCP, payer, or patient, the value of taking a Speak People approach helps support authentic healthcare conversations in any type of communication.

You can view full survey results and insights to PCPs behaviors at harrispoll.gsw.agency.

  • Amanda Joly

    Amanda Joly is EVP, Brand and Experience Strategy at GSW, a Syneos Health company. GSW has offices in Columbus, Ohio; New York City; Toronto; Montreal; Newtown, Pennsylvania; and Santa Monica, California. It is one of the largest health and wellness advertising agencies in the world. GSW provides a full range of client resources, including research, analytics, marketing and brand consultancy, payer strategy, advertising, promotion, public relations, advocacy, medical education, meetings and events, interactive communications, and more.

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