Spikes Asia 2015: Healthcare arrives in age of 'nowness'

Vineet Vijayraj Thapar of Digitas Health, president of the healthcare jury for Spikes Asia 2015, argues that the industry he services, long seen as a creative desert, now demands original, brand-centric thinking.

Vineet Vijayraj Thapar: traditional power equations no longer stand
Vineet Vijayraj Thapar: traditional power equations no longer stand

This is the second in a four-part series by Spikes Asia 2015 jury presidents in the run-up to this year's festival.

A little over a decade ago, health was starving for creativity globally. Despite pockets of brilliance, health didn’t register on most creatives’ radar. Concerns about regulatory frameworks deterred creative minds from joining the cause.

But then things pivoted. Digital became big and suddenly brands had dazzling tools, a larger palette, and a bigger role to play beyond just selling product. They needed creativity to go where they had not gone before, to cool digital places like interaction, engagement and activation.

Then five years ago, mobile health entrepreneurship took off when smartphone adoption hit critical mass globally. Iconic consumer brands like Google, Apple and Samsung unveiled health initiatives, and regulatory regimes everywhere were thrown into disarray trying to make sense of the new landscape bubbling with app innovation. Every brand wanted one. Then people started talking to each other on social channels, and health showed up as a core conversation. This further opened the door to a host of new possibilities. Slowly but surely, pharma brands started stepping into social. Despite continued regulatory concerns, creativity has flourished.

All this movement has upended traditional power equations. People have taken control. Earlier, brands used to be the arbiters of what people heard or saw. Today, empowered patients have undermined brands’ control over their own narratives. Brands can no longer rely solely on drip-feeding messages one way to a passive audience, something that was key to old print-based marketing models. Non-linear narratives and delivering value through engagement beyond the pill have become a real and pressing need for brands. Value-centric pull thinking has challenged messaging-centric push thinking.

Now people are the arbiters of whether or not a brand has delivered them the value they seek. Patient-centricity has stopped being a buzzword and become integral to business models. Brands find themselves caught up in the middle of a global health revolution trying to make sense of their own place. Are they to continue as just manufacturers of health products or do they aspire to larger place in peoples’ contemporary lives?

How far we’ve come in such a short time!

Today health is the new black. Smart companies have begun to put generous purpose at the heart of their brand strategies. That’s opening up greater roles for marketers, strategists, planners, creatives, and technologists. We have become a thriving global community, flush with cutting edge thought, talent and technology. We are telling powerful stories, while delivering great value. One can see spectacular celebration of this renaissance at events like Lions Health and Spikes. Mainstream agencies are stepping in to the game with their formidable talent pools.

The field of health marketing itself is evolving at dizzying speed. Vigorous fragmentation of media and channels has transformed health journeys in many parts of the world. It has changed how people access information, and how, what, and who they trust. Patient and HCP communities across the world are now connecting with and learning from each other freely. People are using this omnichannel state of being to seek better answers, putting pressure on brands and on their own health systems. While it’s not the same everywhere yet, we are all clearly moving in this direction.

We call this ‘nowness’. A state of hyper-fragmentation, transformative innovation, and connectedness. Where people innately learn differently, moving parkour-like through platforms, across channels and over time, in swift pursuit of the information they need. It requires brands to keep up. It provides reference points along a customer journey where brands need to show up to deliver specific value, and there’s little predictability.

And nowness increasingly includes the HCPs. As sales force access shrivels HCPs turn to other channels for information, at their point of need. When that happens, Nowness expands. That’s why thriving now requires that brands live their higher order purpose through helpful, generous ideas 24/7. Beyond advertising, brand experiences that provoke a change in behaviour. That means many things that have traditionally not been associated with or considered to be a part of advertising. The need for brand creativity has never been greater.

Vineet Vijayraj Thapar is SVP of creative with Digitas Health. 

Spikes Asia, the region's biggest festival of creativity, returns this year from 9 through 11 September at Suntec Singapore. The Spikes awards will be presented on 11 September at the Ritz Carlton, with an afterparty, sponsored by Leo Burnett, at The Clifford Pier at Collyer Quay. 

See all of Campaign Asia-Pacific's Spikes coverage 


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