Bipolar is how Perrot describes the healthcare industry, not in terms of mental illness but in relation to the opposite extremes that the sector’s advertising has to reach in unison.
“On one end there is a deep-dive into science,” he explains, while on the other, the lowest-common consumer denominator reigns supreme. But the sector’s advertising has to speak clearly to both sides as well as the “whole rainbow of understanding in between”.
Add to that a sort of barbed-wire fence of regulations that companies have to carefully step through in each part of Asia in order to stay on the right side of ethical, legal and cultural boundaries. It’s a difficult challenge, but one Perrot appreciates and embraces. “The best work in the world is done two ways,” he said, “when there is no money. Or when there are so many rules and regulations that we have to reinvent ourselves.”
Success within that constrained setting, he emphasised, means making your messages simple. “You only need three spokes to make a wheel,” the creative director explained. “You don’t need a hundred.”
To illustrate his point, Perrot brought up McCann’s most awarded campaign to date, 'Dumb ways to die'. It’s not from the healthcare side of the agency but it shows what he means about using a simple idea. Before going viral on YouTube, the ad started out as just a song with a basic message, he said. And while the original brief’s goal may have been to encourage safety with a youth audience, the imagery, music and attitude spoke to a far greater bandwidth of people. Healthcare marketing requires the same breadth and straightforwardness every time.
For an industry example, Perrot referenced a video and poster his agency created for Pfizer. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness around the world and the bulk of sufferers have little warning of its onset. The drug maker offers a treatment for it but the difficulty is most potential patients don’t know they need it because any related vision loss typically isn't noticeable until it's too late. That means the disease essentially sneaks up on people. And therein was the theme for the message to prompt people to get tested. TV and outdoor ads portrayed the situation with a dramatic, but simple, depiction of stringy red veins, which look a lot like eerie hands, creeping toward an eyeball.
“The person that did that ad was an art director and the insight was spidery veins," Perrot said. "So it’s really simple when you put the two things together.”
What works in healthcare marketing “is not about the advertising and certainly not about the conventional work," he continued. "It’s about innovation, about opportunity and taking the technology that’s available to us and communicating with people about making life more liveable; longer; healthier; richer.”
That philosophy, which drives all the global creative director’s work, formed many years ago when he was working with FMCG brands. “Whether you’re talking about selling cornflakes or religion, selling drugs or remedies, perfumes or lotions, you’re selling a point of view.”
Health consciousness is trending-up, Perrot contends. Awareness about food safety and the environment are part of the news and people want to know about what will make them well “and that is absolutely a healthcare issue,” he said. But even when people are looking for certain types of information, sometimes there are still obstacles. In Japan, for instance, strict regulations around prescription drug advertising reduce the possible channels for companies to market brand-name medications. Perrot’s team in the country created songs, anime characters and blogs to deliver the marketing message while staying within the rules.
But often its not the regulations that pose a challenge as much as the culture of a country or even a client business.
“The very first [health] campaign I worked on was for Cervarix (a vaccine against the human papilloma virus). The challenge there was to convince a mother to take her 8-year-old to the doctor to have her vaccinated against cervical cancer. That was a global campaign, so it wasn’t just dealing with one or two countries. We started with all western, then into Muslim, and then multi-religions and multi-national. Same messaging, same approach, same female insights. And when we presented it, I talked to the client about a brand, and how a brand needs trust. And trust comes with credibility; and credibility has emotion behind it. Because we want people to be part of the brand and for the brand to be part of people’s lives.” The approach is remarkably similar to, and you might even say the same as, work Perrot had done for years in FMCG. But it wasn’t one drug makers were used to. “They had never had anyone speak to them like that before, and it tripped a switch for them.”
To help get his own teams also thinking outside typical boundaries, Perrot says he gathers all his creative directors once a year in a location that is unfamiliar to deliberately put them outside their comfort zone. He then invites master storytellers from other industries, namely Hollywood, to come and speak about their creative journeys. The sessions aren’t about advertising; they’re about creativity.
“The real challenge in this business,” Perrot said “is keeping things simple; keeping the idea compelling; keeping the execution simple and articulated in a classy, crisp fresh way. And then all the natural instincts of communication should follow behind there.”
To read more about healthcare marketing challenges in Asia see our story in Campaign Asia-Pacific’s May 2014 issue.
And to further immerse yourself in the region’s health and wellness issues, watch for Campaign’s Healthcare Marketing conference on 16 October in Singapore. The summit aims to highlight inventive, timely and niche strategies to improve marketing initiatives for the sector across the region.