CAMPAIGN REPORT ON HEALTHCARE: The doctor’s word - With the growth of healthcare advertising to the public, Dr Brian Kelly argues that specialist and consumer ad agencies will need to work together

The pressure on agencies to promote healthcare messages effectively is clearly growing. But the large agencies don’t know how to talk to consumers about health issues and they don’t know how to talk to health professionals.

The pressure on agencies to promote healthcare messages effectively

is clearly growing. But the large agencies don’t know how to talk to

consumers about health issues and they don’t know how to talk to health


Health has been a consumer issue for a long time, but has been underused

by managers of mainstream brands for fear of giving their products a

niche status. As a result, consumer agencies rarely got involved. But

now consumers are demanding a positive health value from many more

brands. Soon all brands will have to be healthy, as mobile phone

manufacturers and food retailers are aware.

Meanwhile, there is the movement of more pure healthcare brands towards

advertising direct to consumers, in addition to healthcare


In the US, more than dollars 1 billion is spent in advertising medical

products to consumers. But direct to consumer marketing is in a highly

regulated field and is still a fledgling business. In Europe agencies

need to understand the complexities of both how to communicate health

messages to consumers and how to reach health specialists.

All this presents a major opportunity for health specialist agencies,

despite the David and Goliath nature of the competition. The Goliaths -

in the shape of the big agencies - might seem the best option for an

advertiser wanting to reach a mass audience, but the Davids - the

smaller healthcare specialists - have their own advantages.

Obviously, the Goliaths are bigger, have more power and fit the bill if

you want to make a lot of noise on television. The Davids, on the other

hand, are adept at understanding health technologies and their impact on

the customer.

This level of scientific insight is not commonly associated with the big

consumer agencies. When it comes to health or medical matters, consumer

agency doyens inevitably explain from the mount how pathetically

uncreative medical advertising is. It is tempting for health agency

specialists to sit back and see how consumer agencies handle medical

products creatively and watch them make the inevitable mistakes.

But, in reality, the specialist skill of the smaller agencies could only

ever have become apparent after the Goliaths had entered the field of

battle. So in the 21st century version, David doesn’t knock out Goliath,

he persuades him to join the other side, set up a joint venture or just

become good friends who can mutually benefit from their alliance.

In practice, these alliances have proved difficult because the larger

agencies don’t like the idea that they’re there for the brawn and not

the brains. But the first allegiance to get it right has huge dividends

to reap and real added value to offer.

The rules of engagement are simple:

- David should remember, he wouldn’t be at this party if Goliath hadn’t

been invited.

- And Goliath ought to know that being big and not too clever doesn’t

give you much pulling power.


DR KRISHNA KORLIPARA, member of the General Medical Council

I read GP, Pulse and Doctor faithfully every week as they are delivered

free to the surgery. I find their articles interesting because they

concern day-to-day practice.

Although they may cover the same subjects, they do so with a different

emphasis, which is what makes them an interesting read. The political

coverage interests me, as I like knowing what is controversial and what

people generally think about medical issues.

I subscribe to the British Medical Journal and skim through the New

England Journal of Medicine, but my biggest weakness is for GP as I’ve

been reading it for more than 20 years.


For everyday news, nothing beats the ’comics’ Doctor, GP and Pulse. But

I also find the BMJ Health News daily e-mail indispensable if I’m doing

any writing or broadcasting, as it keeps me up to date with all the

latest news. It’s also easier to use for research than fusty old

volumes, as I can find any references I need in no time.

I flick through the New Scientist, and used to read Medeconomics, but am

increasingly less interested in the elitist side of general practice.

After all, I’m a GP for the good of my eternal soul, not the good of my

bank balance.


The BMJ offers good weekly updates on medical matters, and I find it a

well-balanced read for GP and hospital issues. I get numerous weekly

medical magazines delivered to the surgery, and the quality is variable,

although it’s useful to flick through for articles giving an update on

political issues and hospital summaries.

I subscribe to the British Journal of Family Planning, and read the BMJ

and GP from cover to cover, but the majority go straight in the bin.

After all, if a major issue breaks, the BMJ will cover it more than


Compiled by Jenny Watts.

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