Campaign report on healthcare - Trade secrets the art and craft of healthcare creatives

'Healthcare' and 'creative' are not words you usually put together to describe agency work in the sector. But there may be changes, writes Nicole Dickenson.

Healthcare agency creatives are the first to admit that their

agencies are not exactly a hotbed of creativity and originality. ’The

advertising industry has pooh-poohed a lot of healthcare ads and quite

rightly so.

In comparison with consumer advertising, we were doing crap, but

standards are improving,’ is one creative director’s honest


Some healthcare creatives point to the regulatory environment as an

obstacle to producing truly innovative work. On top of the usual

advertising codes of practice, healthcare ads are subject to an extra

layer of rules set by the Association of British Pharmaceutical


The ABPI rules ban the use of superlatives and comparative advertising,

among other things, and require that all claims in ads are backed up by

research papers. The rules present a real challenge for copywriters and

all too often mean rather dull headlines. But many creative directors

argue that the regulations are an excuse for some creatives not to do

great work.

The client is also often blamed for stifling creativity. Whether

healthcare clients are any more difficult to please than consumer

clients is debatable, but they are generally more conservative. For good

reason. ’In the past, a lot of clients were medical people, so there’s a

greater degree of conservatism and quite rightly so. If mis-prescribed,

drugs can kill,’ says Martyn Walsh, European creative director at

Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Connection.

Many clients forget that the target audience, the medical profession,

comprises ordinary consumers and try to impress them with science.

’There’s a tendency among some clients to want to make it a high

science, what we call the flying molecule school of advertising. But

they should be focusing on the benefit to the doctor, to the patient, to

the consumer,’ points out Phil Cox, creative director of Lane Earl &


The scientific background of most clients coincides with a dearth of

marketing skills. Many product managers are ex-sales reps, and agency

creatives complain that few understand advertising concepts or the role

of advertising in the promotional mix.

’In the healthcare world, we’re often dealing with marketing people who

have a very scientific background and take a very logical approach to

advertising. They tend to rely heavily on research and not much on gut

feel,’ says Geoff Leavold, creative director of Leavold Pollard


The complaint that most clients are loath to take a flyer and run with

an ad that doesn’t do well in research is voiced by many healthcare

agency creatives. Alex Perryman, creative director of Brader Perryman,

calls for a different approach.’Quite often people use concept research

to test whether a brief was right in the first place. We should be

testing the best execution of that brief, not whether it was right to

start with,’ she says.

The advice to do less research into the idea is especially pertinent as

doctors come over all conservative when asked for their professional

opinions on research. They tend to respond best to the sort of ad that

they’re used to seeing and shy away from challenging ideas. No wonder so

many healthcare ads look so similar.

But there are signs that some clients are adopting a bolder


’Brand managers on the consumer side realised in the late 70s that the

way to get ahead was to take risks and produce famous ads. That’s now

happening on the pharmaceutical side,’ says Walsh.

Saatchi Healthcare Connection is one of the few healthcare agencies to

employ planners and Walsh is convinced that planners help to reassure

clients and encourage them to take a few risks.

But not all healthcare agency creatives are convinced that planners are

needed on the ethical side as the target audience is so small and

well-known. They probably have more of a role to play with OTC drugs and

more consumer healthcare products.

Not all the problems of lack of creativity can be blamed on the


’It’s easy to blame the client, given their background and lack of


If you let them, they will scupper good ideas. But if you have a good

relationship with the client and know what you’re doing, they can see

good work. I think a lot of the problems are on the supply side.

Healthcare agencies suffer from a lack of talent,’ asserts Dean Woolley,

creative director of Woolley Pau.

It is hard to attract good creatives to the healthcare agency sector for

a number of reasons and copywriters, in particular, are in extremely

short supply. First, creatives with an arts background can be

technophobic and shy away from all the research and technobabble that

come with healthcare products. Also, most ethical advertising is

press-only and below the line, which won’t appeal to a creative who

wants to work across all media. So healthcare agencies are often left

with creatives who aren’t comfortable with science or science buffs who

don’t understand advertising.

A number of healthcare agencies have begun to challenge the standard

practices and are trying to attract more creatives into the sector. ’We

have taken a totally different view to the traditional approach which

has been to bring in technical people to deal with the issues. What

we’ve done is marry a really good consumer copywriter with an ethical

art director or the other way round,’ says Saatchi’s Walsh.

Next year the Healthcare Advertising Agencies Group’s Best of Health

Awards will include a competition for students of life science and art,

which will hopefully enlarge the pool of talent from which agencies can


Roz Beasley, creative director of Herman Beasley, says that recruitment

will continue to be a problem for some time, but predicts that more

agencies might hire technical specialists to work alongside creatives in

an advisory capacity.

The process has to continue because the whole business is becoming much

more competitive. There are now over 50 healthcare agencies compared

with just half a dozen 20 years ago. And, more importantly, as more

prescription drugs become available OTC, healthcare agencies will

increasingly find themselves in the same market as mainstream consumer

agencies. If they don’t measure up, they risk losing business.

MARTYN WALSH European Creative Director Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare


Favourite pharmaceutical ad - Edronax anti-depressant press ads by

Leavold Pollard Rogan for Pharmacia & Upjohn.

’In amongst a mass of ads that just tell you what a product does, the

Edronax ads go beyond the standard product description. They are about

finding out how depression expresses itself with the patient, the

tell-tale signs that a doctor should look for and how the drug can help

the patient improve their own self-perception.

In a world of very technical ads, the Edronax ad comes at you as a

consumer ad.

’Doctors are consumers too and it would appeal to them. It treats the

doctor with respect and talks to him as a human being.’

Favourite OTC ad - Alka Seltzer ’Lifeboat’ TV commercial by Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO. ’The commercial is really terrific. The ad is incredibly

brave and took a brave client to run it, but it will register in

people’s minds. It goes back to basics: it treats the consumer with

intelligence and takes an interesting scenario, one that’s


’We will see more healthcare ads like that - ones that cut through all

the consumer ads in the same slot and don’t lag behind or apologise and

don’t turn up with the usual white coat and stethoscope.’

PHIL COX Creative Director Lane Earl & Cox

Favourite healthcare ad - Twinrix hepatitis vaccine press ads by Ogilvy

& Mather for SmithKline Beecham.

’I chose the Twinrix Postcards campaign because it is a solid idea

relying on the irritating desire to read other people’s correspondence.

It works every time. I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t stopped to read

the postcard.

And that’s it, you’re hooked! Of course it breaks all the rules of

pharmaceutical advertising. No proper headline. Hardly any body copy. No

floating molecules and a logo that doesn’t take up two thirds of the

page. It’s the simplicity of the idea which works so well. It involves

patients without showing patients, which can be a real problem in

health-care advertising. If you show them looking fit and well, then the

ad doesn’t relate to the specific condition and product. If you present

them looking ill, it looks like the product doesn’t work. What really

gets me is the attention to detail. They really didn’t have to include

the note: ’Based on an actual case history’. I believe in these cards. I

believe their stories.

A great idea put together with loving care. What more can you ask?’

ROZ BEASLEY Creative Director Herman Beasley

Favourite ethical ad - Klaricid XL, a product to treat chest infections

for Abbot Laboratories.

’The Klaricid Invisible Man ad has enormous stopping power. It’s nicely

art directed, although copy and typography could have been much better,

and it’s a novel way of communicating the efficacy of the product.

It’s good to see an established brand use a very different approach to

their previous campaign, which was very tired looking. The agency must

have a client in Abbot that has foresight. I suspect it wasn’t

researched to death or else it wouldn’t have retained this degree of


Favourite OTC ad - Fybogel poster campaign.

’It’s a fast, innovative visual communication, which I suspect a lot of

creatives will have thought of, but not dared to present to the


The sensitive subject is given an irreverent treatment, yet one that

works and gives an old established brand new life and street cred.I

wonder if the fact that this idea came out of a big agency gave it extra


DEAN WOOLLEY Creative Director Woolley Pau

Favourite ad - Fybogel, a product to treat constipation which is

available on prescription and over-the-counter. A series of press and

poster ads were created by Medicus UK.

’Fybogel is an exemplary campaign. It’s very relaxed, it doesn’t

patronise the audience and it is accessible. If you consider that the

brand is for constipation, that’s no mean feat. It’s also simple,

doesn’t try too hard and is consumer friendly.

’Very often healthcare ads try too hard because clients don’t understand

what the advertising medium is about. Fybogel is an ad that doesn’t (do


Medicus has also done some nice things on the prescription side. The

campaign for doctors is different, but has the same strengths as the

consumer campaign: it’s very simple and not cluttered up with too many

messages. It’s also humorous without laughing at the condition


The ad featuring the horsy, toffee-nosed woman with the words ’Stuck

Up?’ and then just the Fybogel logo implants the brand name in

consumers’ minds.’

ALEX PERRYMAN Creative Director Brader Perryman

My favourite ad is for Twinrix.

’They are simple, beautifully crafted and emotionally involve the reader

in a subtle way. There’s a lot of attention to detail - the dog-eared

postcards, postmarks - which make it look just right.

Second favourite ad - Microgynon 30 oral contraceptive press ads by

Money Syner for Schering Health Care.

’Microgynon has been around for a long time, but it’s been up against it

since the pill scare of Autumn 1995 and the new third generation of

pills. Microgynon wasn’t promoted for a while, although it was still

available on prescription. This is a new ad for an old product. It’s a

very simple, straightforward piece of communication.

Oral contraceptive ads usually feature pretty young girls and are a bit

superficial and don’t necessarily relate to the people who use the


In the Microgynon ad, the image chosen is a group of untrustworthy

looking young lads sitting in a cafe with the line: ’Not everything in

life can be trusted like Microgynon 30’. The men are featured for a

reason and it’s very relevant. There is very little to differentiate one

oral contraceptive ad from another and they don’t really add to the

branding of the product, whereas the Microgynon ad stands out. It’s not

an amazing idea, but it’s different.’