NHS pharmacy ad turns spotlight on need for clear messaging on health

Spot's humorous tone could be jarring, VCCP's chief strategy officer says in his Adwatch review.

NHS: 'Is there something a bit jarring in here?'
NHS: 'Is there something a bit jarring in here?'

The financial well-being of the NHS depends on all of us using its services properly, so it’s an eminently sensible use of marketing budget to help us get better at "self-triaging", to make use of the jargon.

Good local pharmacies are brilliant at cutting down the pressure on GPs, as well as giving quick and helpful service to patients. A happy win-win – and it makes us predisposed to judge this new NHS ad generously.

It’s obviously doing something right in the awareness stakes, with a series of histrionic overreactions to minor complaints and a touch of high-drama camerawork to give some extra impact.

But is there something a bit jarring in here? The protagonists – always in the carer rather than patient role, interestingly – hysterically exaggerate the condition, but make the right choice to seek out a pharmacist. Does that make sense? Are we laughing at people overreacting to relatively unimportant health issues? Or is the humour in the hyperbole of their (correct) demand for a pharmacist?

Am I overthinking it?

Well, maybe, but current circumstances suggest that precise and clear communication around healthcare is a pretty important issue. What are valid worries and what are overreactions, and how do we effectively talk to people who are prone to the latter (and are presumably the target of this campaign)?

How can we understand and empathise with high anxiety and thereby turn it into appropriate and informed behaviour?

No easy answers to that, but one assumes that the next iteration of this NHS work will be a little clearer and a little calmer in helping the worried – well and unwell – make the right choices.

Michael Lee is chief strategy officer at VCCP