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Great creative and a healthier life by Craig Douglass, Digitas Health


There is no shortage of research in the role of creativity in advertising.

I know. I read it all the time.

The approaches can vary significantly, but the gist is pretty much the same: the quality of the creative is primarily responsible for getting the most bang for an advertising buck. It makes sense. We all know great creative: it gets everyone talking.

An article from a few years back in the Journal of Advertising Research went even further. It said great creative can actually provide “proof of the brand’s smartness, and ability to solve problems and develop valuable products.”

This is especially meaningful to me, as the creative director of a health care agency. I’ll admit it: I’m not sure I need a smart lite beer or bag of chips (delicious though they may be). But I do know I need the brands that are charged with helping me become healthier to be smart problem-solvers. I also know the brands that can deliver the smarts are more meaningful to the people who use them.

That’s because, in healthcare, marketing effectiveness is largely based on helping people make decisions about their well-being – often some of the most important decisions of their lives. And the brands that can actually help people do this – i.e., influence behavior change — can exponentially increase their value to their customers.

I’m not suggesting this is easy. But I will say that producing great creative is completely worth the effort – and there is effort.

There are many complexities in healthcare creative: regulatory issues, old habits, an ever-changing healthcare landscape, our relationship with our own mortality – just to name a few.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed and complacent and so rely on the expected old advertising tropes (e.g. beach scenes). It’s also easier to lean heavily on the status quo and “the way it’s always been done. “

But letting the complexities stop us is to miss the huge opportunities (and the true necessity) for great healthcare creative. The opportunities are nothing short of improving the performance of your marketing dollar, creating sustainable competitive advantage through mutual value, and ultimately helping people become healthier in their lives.

So how do you do it? How do you make great creative happen?

You focus on it. You stand for it. You become a champion for the best.

Here’s what creative champions do:

  • Find the sand box (not the bulls-eye). Traditionally the process for creating advertising was to zero in on a singular, razor-sharp point. Today great creative requires a generous sand box to play in, a place to explore and experiment where we find solutions to peoples’ problems.
  • Embrace the uncomfortable. We naturally gravitate toward things with which we’re familiar. But if it’s familiar (another word for safe) to you is also familiar to everyone else, and that can get your brand overlooked.
  • Be curious. When reviewing creative, aim to be the most curious person in the room. Ask the most questions. Creativity is fueled by dialogue, not quick decisions.
  • Be vigilant. Pledge to serve and protect ideas, particularly the new ones. They are the most fragile, and they need to be nurtured and explored.
  • Feed your own creativity. Study the craft. (It’s not magic.). Take a creative person to lunch. Expose yourself to as much work as possible, from as many genres as possible. Attend Cannes Lions.
  • You can start right away. The next time creative comes across your desk or you’re making any decision about the creative, remember that you’re impacting the most important part of your investment. Take the time to make it great. You’re not just making an ad or developing a message. You are helping your brand help someone be healthier.

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