Has advertising forgotten something important?
8th April 2022
Steve Martin, Creative Director

Has advertising forgotten something important?

In general, I don’t watch much television, if any for that matter. I know people find this hard to believe sometimes, but to be honest much of what's on TV at the moment I can’t seem to engage with. I know that there are some amazing programmes out there, but I just seem to get restless after about the first five minutes.

We have all the channels and streaming services, but I still struggle to find something to watch. When I do think to myself, “I’d like to watch something tonight” this is how it usually plays out:

I’ll flick through the hundred satellite channels we have, find nothing, flick over to Netflix and spend a constructive half an hour adding shows to My List before giving up and reading a book, listening to some music, doing some drawing or possibly writing something like you’re currently reading! 

It never used to be like this, I don’t know what has changed. I used to enjoy watching the TV especially as I was growing up and like most people my age the best part used to be the ad breaks.  

Adverts used to be amazing, who remembers Apple's 1984, Hamlet Cigars Photo Booth, the Smash Aliens and every Levi ad ever, each a work of genius. Some of these ads are the reason I wanted to become an art director. These ads had stopping power, made you sit up and pay attention, made you laugh, made you think and told a story. Some of these ads didn’t just sell products but helped to change behaviours.

In my opinion most of the TV commercials you see today are noise, most are worse than noise, their white noise. If they were noisy at least there would be an impact, but none of them do, they're just filling airtime and not saying anything. Thank goodness we can now fast forward them. 

However there has been one advertising campaign recently that has made an impact on me and that is Apple Watch’s real-life emergency call ad. As of writing this, the ad’s first aired about two months ago and I’ve only seen them a couple of times, but they’ve stayed with me. These adverts are incredibly powerful and achieve something that hasn’t happened in a long time, even though I already own a digital watch, it made me consider buying an Apple watch. This is advertising at its finest.

For any of you who haven’t seen these adverts, the ad’s use real-life audio is taken from emergency calls to illustrate the difference that the Apple Watch could make in life-or-death situations. Because the ad uses the trauma of these real-life events to help sell a product they have divided opinion on-line on whether this is moral right or wrong, however most agree this is one of the best campaigns in a very long time. 

As you can tell, I’m a fan of these ads. I have no issue with the creatives or Apple using these traumatic real-life events to help tell a story and sell a product, but maybe that's because I’ve worked in the world of healthcare communications for several years and have been doing something similar for quite some time. 

Sometimes it is not easy working in the healthcare industry. Depending on the brands and products you are working on you can be confronted with some truly heart-breaking stories about some very unwell people. It is our job to retell these stories so that they not only will resonate with an HCP but also show a commercial benefit of the product and brand.

I strongly believe that communications that resonate with people are the most effective. If you believe in the story, then you believe in the product. This is not always easy, sometimes it might not even be possible, but we should always try, that's our job to continually elevate, reassess and push boundaries. 

Take, for example, the most basic sales aid. Most will start with the patient profile, name, age, condition, etc, it only takes a few additional sentences to bring this patient to life and give the reader a reason to believe in this person. Let’s make them a human being not just stats, facts and a stock photo. By creating a character, giving the HCP a reason to believe, you have given them an opportunity to emotionally engage, possibly making the character relatable to one of their own patients, suddenly they are invested even if it is at a subconscious level. 

Most of us are now creating and designing for digital, which means we can use video or immersive experiences to really bring these patients to life. A small twenty second video showing John, or Mary, going about their daily lives, living with their illness, with their patient profile annotated on screen will just be effective if not more so than just a list of static facts. 

We can go a lot further than this of course, in the past I created entire back stories, even lives, for these patients and brought them to life through diaries, bespoke websites that look like they’ve been created by the patients themselves, film and interactive stands at exhibitions. The response to these pieces has always been overwhelmingly positive, because we gave the viewer a reason to believe in the characters, the stories and most importantly the product. And like the Apple Watch ads each one of these stories was rooted in a truth about a person, an experience and the product itself.

Give people a reason to believe, a reason to engage, create a narrative that raises above the noise of everything else, then you will stand out, people will take notice and like those classic ads that we all love, you might be able to help change behaviours. 

Consumer advertising seems to have forgotten this. That's why I would argue that currently healthcare communications is the most creative, innovative, personal and brave sector to be working in.