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5 things healthcare advertising can learn from general market creative

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I just returned from a week looking at the best advertising in the world at the Cannes Lions International Festivals of Creativity. Unfortunately for the healthcare advertising industry, the best work was not from any healthcare brands. While companies like Nike, Burger King, and IKEA made numerous trips to the stage accepting awards for innovative advertising, the best the healthcare industry could do was a couple of interesting apps and a roll of toilet paper.

Yes, it was that bad. I promised myself a long time ago that I would never second-guess the jury. I was not in the room with my peers this year, so I don’t know what was entered nor the conversations around the merits of some of the work. But I have to ask all of us – is this the best we can do? It can’t be.

As I wandered through the stacks of work in the basement of the Palais with our leadership team, five things stood out as the reasons why the general market’s work is still better than healthcare’s best. These may sound incredibly obvious, but after looking at this year’s Pharma and Health & Wellness winners, maybe we need to be reminded.

1) Idea is still king.

One of my favorite campaigns from this year’s festival was ‘Whopper Detour’ from Burger King. Why? Because it was an incredible idea. Yes, it also was an app, but the idea wasn’t about the app. The idea was an innovative way to get people to use the app. It was a brilliant, brilliant idea. I was jealous of this campaign the very first time I saw it. Think of the courage the client had to have to buy this idea. Or better yet, imagine the courage of pitching this idea: “We’re going to send customers to McDonald’s as a way to get them to download and use our app!” Ideas make great advertising. Start with an idea and never let go.

2) Craft is important.

Clever copy. Clean art direction. Beautiful photography or illustration. You remember those, right? We need more of it. A lot more. I can’t remember the last time I saw a great headline in a healthcare campaign. Read the copy on the John Boston Pale Ale campaign and tell me if there was a single healthcare ad written this year that is as good. We all got into this industry because we wanted to create work that we were proud of saying was ours. It’s time to get back to the basics.

3) Less is more.

Just because you bought a full-page ad, doesn’t mean you need to fill every space. Most of the best work hits you over the head like a 2×4. It was fast. Simple. Interesting. A campaign for German Rail was nothing more than a side by side comparison, but the idea and simplicity was so good – it was one of my favorite print campaigns.

4) Surprise me.

There’s nothing like a good surprise in a piece of work. A unique turn of phrase. An unexpected ending. The ‘Legal-Ade’ campaign for Country Time Lemonade was a great example. It was different. It was funny. And it was 100% on brand. What more could you ask for an online video?

5) Saving the world.

There have been articles written about how too many of the winners were from causes trying to save the world. I don’t see the problem with trying to make the world a better place. I would love to see creativity help change the discussion around race (Nike), disability (IKEA), and LGBTQ+ rights (Hidden Flags). Think about it, our work in healthcare should be life-changing. The products we are advertising are unbelievable innovations, shouldn’t the work we do be just as special? I would hope so.

As I said, these may sound obvious, but as I looked at the work from our healthcare jury, I couldn’t help but think we could do better. The products we represent deserve the best work in the world. We have the talent. We have the desire. Now we just need to put it all together.

More About the Author

Rich Levy

Rich has made his mark on healthcare advertising over the past 13 years. Agencies under his supervision have won “Most Creative Agency” at the Manny Awards 8 times, “Healthcare Network of the Year,” “#1 Health & Wellness Agency 2018” & “Healthcare Agency of the Year 2017” at Cannes Lions Festival; “Agency of the Year 2018” at The Clio Awards; “Global and Regional Network of the Year” at London International Awards; “#1 Agency in the World” at Advertising Health 2018; “Agency of the Year” at Creative Floor 2018; “Agency of the Year” at New York Festivals Global Awards 2018 and “Healthcare Network of the Year” at New York Festivals Global Awards 2018 & 2017. “Healthcare Network of the Year” at the Med Ad News Manny Awards, 2018. He was also named to MM&M’s and PR Week’s “Health Influencer 50” list in 2018 and he served as Jury President for the 2018 Pharma Lions at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Most recently, Rich was inducted into the DTC Hall of Fame. Before making his move to healthcare, Rich had a lengthy career in consumer advertising and his work has been honored by the Effies, Lions, One Show, Art Directors Club, Addys, and Clios. The “Can You Hear Me Now” campaign slogan he wrote for Verizon Wireless is in the Advertising Walk of Fame and his work for Canon is a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

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