For Such A Time As This: The Potential For Healthcare Marketing

Ram Trucks recently ran a commercial celebrating the blue-collar American and the grueling work they undertake to make ends meet for themselves and their family. The stirring music, arresting visuals, and compelling copy wrapped together to evoke an appreciation for an oft-overlooked demographic by the mainstream media.

In spite of the stirring sentimental feel-good message Ram tried to convey, the criticism that percolated in social media was clear, that the commercial did not reflect the real-life diversity of blue-collar workers. No matter the reason Ram had for choosing to reflect a certain type of blue-collar worker, they missed an opportunity to tell a story that could shape and change perceptions, i.e., to use their platform not only to tell a stirring story, but also to do greater good. 

Healthcare marketing is not automobile marketing but there is something we can learn from the Ram campaign. How can we create campaigns that go beyond the ephemerally provocative, to those that create legacy? How can we use our unique platform to do good? As healthcare marketers, our potential for making a lasting impact is actually higher than those working on non-healthcare brands, because our consumers do not simply interact with our brands; healthcare brands truly impact customers’ life and wellness in physical, emotional, and highly personal ways. A truck can make you feel a lot of things – but it won’t lower your blood sugar.



Many would agree that healthcare consumer marketing is tough. There are a lot of constraints in what we can say. And we are working against a backdrop of greater skepticism towards big pharma. According to the annual Gallop poll surveying Americans perceptions of the top 25 business sectors in the U.S., the average American’s view of the pharmaceutical industry has declined over the past three years. And negative pharma-related press has a tendency to trend on social media, whether it’s the deplorable CEO behind Turing Pharmaceuticals who raised the price of an infectious disease drug by 5,000% overnight, or the legitimate concern over price collusion by insulin makers. As healthcare marketers, we are limited in what we can change about the industry but we do have the opportunity to change perceptions, to show our consumers that we want to put the patient at the center of all we do.

So what examples do we have to turn to? Plenty. One branded campaign discussed at the Effie Awards judging debrief was Similac’s “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign. It tapped into a human truth that brought together moms who have many different beliefs on how best to raise children, and all it took was a little humor and a lot of authenticity. This is just one of many examples of how pharma has used their platform to break stigmas, create conversation and bring people together, hopefully creating a lasting impact. 

As we end 2016, let us pause to consider our purpose and potential. Creating meaningful work is something we always strive to do but it is even more imperative given the larger backdrop of skepticism towards pharma and a divisive political climate. Maybe we can learn from the from Ram Trucks’ example and challenge ourselves to think about how we can use our unique space and areas of expertise to change perceptions, heal divisions and to do good. Because what is marketing if it does not challenge our thinking and change behavior? Perhaps the unlikely candidates, pharma companies and marketers, could lead the way.

The author served on the 2016 North American Health Effie Awards jury.

2 comments about "For Such A Time As This: The Potential For Healthcare Marketing".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 30, 2016 at 1:21 p.m.

    You make some excellent points here.

    I initially wanted to comment because I disagree that blue-collar America is an overlooked demographic. On the contrary, those that overlook them risk losing elections, and more. 

    On the larger subject, I think you're right in that healthcare can show the way to more inclusiveness. Simply because at some level, healthcare will eventually affect us all. Once you get past the politics, we all want to be well, and not go broke getting there or staying there.

    From my seat, however, I see the healthcare providers as leading the way to a more inclusive, consumer-centric approach to both the marketing and the delivery of healthcare. Providers are the only ones who actually touch people. That's the experience we should leverage. If we can get out of our own way. 

    In reality, partnerships with all of the stakeholders in healthcare will make the difference. As long as those partnerships are consumer-focused. My fear is that some would structure such a partnership as collusion and profiteering. That would hurt all of us. 

  2. Gloria Choi from FCB Health replied, December 30, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

    Hi Jonathan, Thank you for the response! Agreed - healthcare providers (HCP) do play a critical role. From the agency (and marketing) perspective, we are constantly trying to think of tools and resources that will be helpful for HCPs. We recognize the burden that physicians face, in regards to limited time, stringent compensation and growing paperwork. It's definitely a challenge for us to provide valuable resources... but we'll keep trying!

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