Hybrid Marketing: “The Modern Idea”

I’ve done a lot of award judging over the past year or so—The Globals, Lions Health and currently our own WPPed Cream Awards. The good news from all this consideration: Despite the well-publicized difficulties of navigating the world of healthcare, an increasing number of original and inspirational ideas have managed to find their way to an audience.

To give you some idea of the ever widening-range of what is now healthcare communication: From Brazil, tattoo artists were trained to look for early signs of skin cancer. In Thailand, old cell phones are recycled to help the hard of hearing. In the U.S., fish talk about the dangers of triglycerides and artificial limbs are created via 3D printing technology.

Campaigns have connected some unlikely bedfellows: Kids with cancer, for instance, or alcoholics. Bar coasters now remind drinkers about domestic violence and apps prompt Alzheimer’s patients’ families. A language was even invented to help women discuss reproductive health.

Seeing a trend here? These ideas are not strictly “advertising” per se, but rather an amazing and inventive array of hybrids that link science, knowledge and technology with video and social media to create a notion you might call the “modern idea.” And, as brilliant as some of the stand-alone print and TV was, it didn’t stack up to campaigns that connect the dots.

The not so good news is that the vast majority of medal winners are disease awareness and advocacy campaigns. It seems that for brands, good creative is the remit of OTC, with condoms and products for pain and GI leading the pack. But why is this the case when there are so many meaty and emotionally rich therapeutic categories? Why does so much of the work of pharma seem trite and contrived? Many creative judges believe marketers are afraid to take a risk, are working only in service of their field force or are on rotation and are simply “passing through” a brand.

Create Love for Your Brand

At Lions Health, Emma Walmsley, CEO of  GSK Consumer Health, said agencies have to help and must stop “blaming the client and allowing us to accept mediocrity,” and instead push for better ideas, be clear about our purpose, celebrate our science and create love for our brands. I’m with you Emma! But these admirable exhortations are worlds away from the meetings in which a headline is whittled down until it no longer makes sense.

One way to approach this differently is to stop allowing the “core vis aid” to be the center of our brand’s creative universe. Marketers and their agencies need to see the world beyond the pill to find the deep insights that will engage doctors and patients, and use these to mobilize their own efforts.

Maybe it’s not about the data anymore—after all, the FDA has already approved the drugs for safety and efficacy. When regulatory says, “No, you can’t say that,” maybe it’s time to push back and say, “Can we afford NOT to say that?”

By attaching their brands and companies to the needs of their constituency instead of just a Kaplan-Meier curve, they will liberate their brands from this sea of sameness—and be in a position to create work that is exciting, original and serves a higher need.

  • Rob Rogers

    Rob Rogers is Co-CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Sudler. Rob Rogers wears a lot of hats. As Chief Creative Officer of Sudler he strives to improve the creative output of a global network of almost 1,000 people. As co-CEO, he shares responsibility for operating six healthcare businesses across the Americas.


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