Insights in health & wellness branding


New creative considerations in the era of COVID‑19

12 May 2020   |   Stephen Neale

As pharma companies struggle to define the “new normal,” what does it mean for healthcare agencies trying to depict patients successfully managing their diseases, i.e., living more “normal” lives? When concepting for new campaigns, what new creative considerations should be discussed in the shadow of COVID-19? Some thoughts:

Adjust the Creative Brief

First, focus on understanding COVID-19’s evolving impact on patients’ lives, mindsets and behaviors. Uncover insights and motivations that are new or have been altered by the pandemic so campaign creative can be responsive to those changes. Strategy will continue to highlight the most compelling benefit a brand offers, but it will be critical to present that benefit in ways relatable to COVID-driven changes in thinking, feelings and lifestyle.

Expand Creative Concepting

Consider two paths: creative driven by pre-COVID-19 research, with adjustments for tone, and creative defined by new research, including insights from patient advisory boards. Every client should have a current board for keeping in touch with the pulse of patient communities and quickly gathering insights. Brands should also have “communispace” for quick reactions to work. These will help with user-generated content as well as understanding how a patient’s disease fits within the “new normal.”

If a concept includes photography or patient experiences, presenting COVID and pre-COVID versions together allows clients to execute both at once (for $$$ savings) or be able to quickly switch to a different execution later. The pandemic has created an unprecedented level of separation among people, but the human spirit always finds a way forward – every day we hear stories of people connecting in new ways and spreading hope and encouragement despite the barriers and uncertainties created by COVID-19. More than ever, healthcare brands have an opportunity to introduce new metaphors and visuals to their aspirational storytelling.

Also, don’t be afraid to explore new and unexpected brand partnerships, even by partnering directly with consumer brands. Lego, for example, has offered a lifeline to parents home-schooling during the pandemic with videos that teach everything from animal facts to genetics.

Reframe Your Messaging

Everyone is being bombarded by information about the coronavirus, creating cognitive and emotional overload. Help reduce this stress by addressing key concerns and helping people feel some degree of control.

Each brand should send out a recap of its safety profile, noting any special considerations for COVID patients. This would also be a good time to flag branded patient-support initiatives and company prescription-assistance programs.

Heuristics, which relies on personal and cultural experience as a reference point for driving decisions, can be used to help patients move from anxiously searching for a perfect solution to quickly arriving at an acceptable solution, which can be very comforting.  Heuristics can also be used for rapid message testing, while more sophisticated biometric methodologies can help reveal responses that participants are unable to fully share via self-report methods.

All of us are in new territory now, but the basics of good creative development still apply. Strive for ideas that are pertinent, relatable and make a strong human connection in ways that feel authentic. Then communicate with messaging that is informative, reassuring and driven by empathy.

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About the Author

After 25 years and more than 75 creative awards in healthcare advertising, including 4 Rx Club Golds and 3 Med Ad News Ads of the Year, Stephen is highly respected throughout the health and wellness advertising community. As strategist and leader, he’s even more respected throughout the agency.