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We speak to ‘Mighty Mobile” Chris Duffey, SVP Group Creative Director, S&H


AH: Would you mind telling us a little about your background? How did you get into the industry?

CD: First off, it’s a pleasure speaking with you and Advertising Health. You’ve played a tremendous role in advancing the conversation about the importance of creativity in our industry.

I started out in the mid ‘90s and spent my early career creating 360 multichannel creative for a wide range of megabrand packaged and consumer goods. While at Leo Burnett, DDB, and Young & Rubicam, I worked on award-winning campaigns for Major League Baseball, Johnnie Walker, and Toshiba, and more than a few brands that didn’t win awards. I then went from marketing for Dr. Pepper to marketing to real doctors. At Sudler, I focus on supporting a variety of channels by striving to create forward-thinking integrated experiences on the Web, mobile, tablet, and beyond.
AH: Tell us a bit about your company and what you are doing now.

CD: Sudler & Hennessey is a healthcare agency within the Young & Rubicam network. Sudler has historically been an innovative creative shop. Just look at the Navane Fist or the Bentyl Slinky ad. Both were recently voted into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame. They represent truly forward thinking, both conceptually and executionally. They would still be considered pretty cool ads today.

Creative giants have walked the halls of Sudler, from the likes of Andy Warhol to Herb Lubalin. That pedigree of design, attention to craft, and innovation can still be seen today across our 60+ offices around the world.

There’s a lot of talk that the “golden age of advertising” reached its peak back in the “Mad Men” era, but I truly believe we are currently living through one of the most exciting creative revolutions the industry has ever seen. This has been driven by advances not only in cutting-edge therapies, but in the proliferation of innovative technology channels that were inconceivable just a few years ago. With this expanded canvas comes the responsibility of bigger deliverables—a more comprehensive and engaging way of storytelling (not story yelling); UX and preference-leveraged technologies; 3D narratives; and richer, deeper connections through social media—all of which create immersive experiences that solve the challenge of connecting brands and consumers.
AH: Tell us about a piece of recent work that you are proud of.

CD: As we speak, we’re literally making the final tweaks to prerelease beta builds on a project that will sync to Apple’s Healthkit. It’s a treatment companion piece that simultaneously taps into the Holy Grail of target audiences: patients, caregivers, and physicians. It has the potential to break new ground and leverage the rise of the “quantified self” (self-knowledge gained through self-tracking with technology). The new platform will not only inform, but will achieve the ultimate goal of behavior change.

Last year, we created one of the first glassware health apps for the now [repositioned] Google Glass. The biggest outcome of the Glass project was how we saw the clear need to redefine our creative process. Some of the best work we’re doing now is on projects/brands that break free of the traditional waterfall approach and instead follow a more organic, agile workflow with the goal of launching and developing new technologies sooner. We then learn and refine based on user-driven data. In other words, we don’t wait for new technologies to lead us, but help lead the new technologies.
AH: Are there any projects you are working on that we should keep an eye out for in the coming months?

CD: We are currently working with ScrollMotion and Apple to decode the rep detail. We saw the need for a tool for marketers and reps that would serve as a reference guide (aka a tips app) for how to interact with the iPad when detailing.

Since the advent of the iPad, we’ve gotten pretty good at refining the content and the experience to keep it clear, concise, and compelling in the 180 seconds that the average rep has to detail. On a parallel path, Apple has continuously made enhancements to what is one of the greatest multisensory, educational devices ever created to date—everything from touch gestures and voice activation to gyroscope and retina display.

But, given all these advances, there is still a need to codify the actual interaction with the device itself. The iPad offers the opportunity to become an extension of oneself, a vital addition to the rep’s exoskeleton. But if the rep isn’t completely at ease with the device itself—and many aren’t today—the best content in the world will be utterly useless. This is why we are creating a customizable app for brands and marketers with the guiding principle of bringing the magic back to the detail.
AH: If you could win any award for your work this year what would it be and why?

CD: Of course, I would aim for them all, but Lions Health has the promise of achieving advertising immortality. It stands alone. It’s the pinnacle. What distinguishes it from the others is the history of Cannes Lions and its list of past winners. And now that heritage of excellence is accorded to healthcare.
AH: Do we really need award shows? What value do you see them offering?

CD: Without a doubt, award shows serve as important platforms to celebrate the things we do right in our business. Gallup/Millward Brown recently did a study that quantified a direct correlation with how much we interact with a brand to how much we use/spend with a brand. Award shows bring inspiration and innovation to brand interaction and, frankly, can be impetus for change in an industry that too often can find itself in stagnation.
AH: How would you see the work other agencies are making if award shows didn’t exist?

CD: Without award shows, it would be nearly impossible to get exposure to curated groundbreaking work. They really are the incubators for next-generation breakthrough work.
AH: Should healthcare advertising still be regarded as separate from the wider advertising community?

CD: No. Having started out on the consumer side, I can honestly say that healthcare advertising has some of the most wickedly smart and creative people, not only compared with the wider advertising community, but compared with any industry. And with the revolution/evolution of things like the Digital Health movement, mHealth, quantified self, electronic health records, and wearable technology, not only is healthcare advertising positioned to do great innovative work, but, most importantly, positioned to achieve great outcomes for patient health.
AH: Are you attending Cannes Lions this year? If so what do you hope to get from it?

CD: Yes, I’m planning on attending Cannes Lions 2015. By the way, Rob Rogers, Sudler’s global creative guiding force, is chairing the pharma jury this year.

Cannes Lions is a bit like a Don Quixote Complex. Do we all flock to this mecca of advertising because we are completely delusional about our possibility of winning a Lion or because we actually have a chance? Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing if and how the work evolved in 2014. I am especially interested to see if the US has found ways to answer the challenge of stepping up our creative game. There are also some new categories such as mobile, a renewed focus on craft, and Cannes Innovation.
AH: Do you think we sometimes use regulation as an excuse to make work that doesn’t live up to standard consumer advertising?

CD: There are cynics who may use this as an excuse, and there is nothing that hinders change more so than cynicism. If you can’t deal with it, get out of the industry and go sell candy bars. At the end of the day, we, as a collective creative body, have to come together and figure it out on a number of fronts—whether it be finding better ways to empower our clients and their organizations with rationales to defend the work, or talking directly with OPDP to help shape guidance and policies, or doing the unthinkable—create messages that speak louder and make a bigger impression than the ugly expanses of fair balance that surround them.
AH: Do you think healthcare agencies should start planning their own media to get the creative control they need?

CD: The more agencies can nurture and guide the creative the better. And media planning should be no different. Rather than getting a brief with predetermined media buys, it should be a collaborative process where both the buy and the concept inspire each other. For example, digital display is huge. It’s one of the fastest growing sectors, albeit a complex ecosystem. There are banners; sponsorship, interruptive, and e-mail displays, tenancies, preroll/post roll, social video, in game and EHRs. And each of these digital displays plays a different role and requires a different creative expression along the customer journey. So in order for media and its creative content to be more effective and build awareness, creative and media have to go hand in hand.

And the role of programmatic could be a whole separate discussion on how it’s flipping the traditional model of buying and selling media on its head. Even the exact definition of programmatic varies; however, most would agree that it includes automating previously manual workflows, frictionless purchasing, and data-driven targeting. There’s also the topic of how brands are planning more direct interaction with DSPs (demand side platforms) aside from the looming question of whether brands will even be able to apply the technology successfully.

Ultimately, the distribution of creative content is equally as important as the concept and execution.
AH: How was the experience of presenting at the first ever Cannes Lions Health?

CD: It was an amazing experience from both the vantage point of being a presenter of Mighty Mobile and the perspective of an attendee. The inaugural Lions Health 2014 was a pivotal moment for creativity and technology in healthcare. It allowed the industry to come together for a few days to celebrate and share in moonshot thinking. It created a special forum for a renewed focus on the importance of creative in issues of patient centricity, physician empowerment, brand experiences, and personalized communications. It was truly a defining platform for healthcare. I was proud to be a part of it.
AH: Where do you see the big opportunities for mobile in health?

CD: Mobile and mHealth is no longer about just the device, but also increasingly about the channel—a channel so powerful that it can now be the nucleus for a transmedia health and wellness approach: Apps, mobile Web, location. All are components to a higher order where real-time data drives innovative creative. An infinity loop of combustion where content generates the data, and the data propels the content.

The new mind-set for health must be Mobile-first. Because, without it, the industry will fall prey to digital Darwinism; where the evolution of technology and society occurs faster than our industry can adapt.
AH: What is the single change you’d like to see in the industry this year?

CD: There are actually a number of things, but the biggest thing is getting rid of all the naysayers. Our jobs are tough enough. If we could just ship out all the selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited, dictating, condescending, political, toxic personalities, we’d all be better for it.
AH: Where do you look for inspiration?

CD: At the moment, I’m finishing up a program called Squared, which is powered and developed by Google. It’s been coined “the MBA for digital marketing”—130 hours compilation of some of the most real-time digital information out there. I highly recommend it. It’s a big commitment, but well worth it.
AH: Do you look at other healthcare agencies around the world? Who do you think is making the best work at the moment?

CD: Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Global Digital Marketing Agencies is a great reference for agencies that are strategically and creatively leading the way. A few agencies that stick out are AKQA, Wunderman, and Possible, for their ability to execute and completeness of vision. For a pure health and wellness agency, Langland is doing compelling work.
AH: What is the best piece of work you’ve seen this year?

CD: My daughter’s first grade class just put on a play they spent months creating—everything from going to Broadway to meet with set and costume designers, to choreographing the fight scene, to creating artwork and selecting a typeface for the playbill. Not only did these 7-year-old kids fearlessly get up on stage for a couple of hours, but they had fun throughout the process. That was a great reminder for me. It’s really difficult to do great work if you’re not having fun on some level.
AH: How do you compare the quality of creative work in healthcare advertising vs Consumer advertising?

CD: Comparing healthcare to consumer is apple to oranges no matter how we look at it. Ultimately, both consumer and healthcare are trying to create a behavior change, a mind shift. Around 350 BC, Aristotle concluded there are seven golden rules for successful storytelling. These same rules are still the guideposts for advertising storytelling today. So a great story is a great story no matter the product or brand.
AH: What one thing would you want to say to someone new to the industry?

CD: DON’T RUN FROM THE FIRE. WALK INTO IT. It is where all the excitement is. Don’t ever go for the easiest solution.
AH: Who do you look up to and why?

CD: Our co-CEOs. Rob Rogers is the embodiment of a craftsman. He literally builds boats by hand. He’s also come up through the ranks as a creative. So he brings all that ingenuity and experience to his co–CEO role. Andy Warhol once said, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art,” and that’s what’s inspirational about Rob and will be part of his lasting impact on this industry. I also look up to Louisa Holland. She is one class act. Louisa not only gets the science, but she gets how to translate that into great work. Together, they have created a culture that fosters thought leadership.
AH: If you could read an interview on advertising health from anyone in healthcare advertising, who would it be with? And what would you want to know?

CD: I would really enjoy a conversation with the Apple wearable “dream team” on the future of and opportunities in wearables and health.
AH: Thanks Chris!


  • Jack

    Chris speaks the truth. Nice to see you in this forum—you are a formidable creative force, and I totally agree that this is a great time, perhaps the best time to be in the biz.