The health zeitgeist
A view from Sue Unerman

The health zeitgeist

What is the spirit of these times?

Being able to pinpoint the emerging zeitgeist can have a powerful impact on brands and media channels. Current predictions include: mobile is everything; the quantified self; transparency (as I pointed out in my book Tell the Truth); personalisation (see my recent blog); content is king; and distribution is queen.

All of these have merit. But there is also an all-encompassing trend in the West and in emerging nations that is redefining the economy and re-expressing what morality means in modern society. It will have a long-term impact on legislation and government planning. Brands that address it will experience success – indeed, many of the world's great brands are beginning to do so.

This is the new health trend. We are used to the idea that medicine is getting better – our expectations over the past five decades for recovery from illness have risen considerably. However, since the decoding of the human genome in 2001, healthcare has become personal and is set to become even more so.

The availability of a personal genome profile means that we can and should be in the position of taking care of ourselves more than our parents and grandparents could. An understanding of the likelihood that we might fall prey to a disease will become part of our upbringing and education. The responsibility for our own lifespan and health will be our own rather than that of the state. There will be a new class structure in society – those who take care of themselves and those who don't. There will be a revolution in insurance services and personalised healthcare. There will be a new moral code. How we behave, how much we eat or drink and if we exercise or take drugs will be based on personal responsibility for caring for our genome structure, not on the rights and wrongs imposed by society, relationships or religion.

The health industry is one of the greatest stimulants to the global economy. The futurology expert Leo Nefiodow has identified this as the next powerful "long wave". He says: "The health cycle isn't really about healthcare; it's just called this. More than 97 per cent of financial capital is spent on research into, and diagnosis, therapy and management of, diseases. It is, in fact, an illness cycle."

Can any other industry match health/illness in stimulating jobs and investment?

Technology for the quantified self, mindfulness, exercise, biotechnology, diet, genealogy research, cosmeceuticals, therapies, care for the elderly, policy for education and sports at school, home-testing kits, new medicines. All developing from the health trend. It's the new morality; the new social imperative.

Should every brand seek to find a fit with the health zeitgeist? Well, as long as the fried chicken shops remain some of the most popular retail outlets on the high street, there is no need to shoehorn immediate healthy meaningfulness into every single brand. Brands need to prioritise authenticity over the sheen of an intoxicating but irrelevant shell of meaning.

But, as the zeitgeist of this era, the health (or illness) wave needs to be considered for marketing and communication strategy.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom