Navigating Complexity: A Creative POV

Show me a brilliantly creative healthcare ad and I’ll show you a simple ad. Simplicity is the secret sauce to much of the advertising that creatives love, but more importantly, it’s the secret to what usually works for patients, health care professionals and our clients.

Think about the best work you admire. Whether it’s a Super Bowl spot or a patient brochure, you were likely drawn to an idea that was insightful and told with the fewest of words. It’s the ads that make any creative wild with jealousy. But it’s not just about the ad anymore. We have to use that same simplicity and apply it to just about everything else that has to do with healthcare, given the opportunity. Today, it’s about helping people navigate the complexities of healthcare with an elegant solution, one that makes life easier.

Simplicity is not so simple

In healthcare marketing, we have the added challenge of untangling complex ideas about disease, dysfunction and the side effects of the medications for which we’re advocating. And not only that, the FDA is watching like a hawk. (As they should.) In the end, our task is always to create simplicity in the face of complexity. 



We aren’t just selling products; we are helping patients, doctors (and our clients) navigate through the choices and information that they need to make life-changing decisions and avoid adverse events. 

I constantly struggle to pare information, ideas and concepts to the most relevant. Between shorter timelines, longer disclaimers and briefs that ask every piece to say more and work harder, it can be challenging to maintain simplicity. But despite all these challenges, that’s exactly what each of us should be striving for, whether it’s an ad, a website or app. 

What’s the Call To Action?

So how exactly do we battle complexity? (And it is a battle.) We have to fight to strip away everything that is not needed in favor of the single thought, message or accomplishment we want our audience to take away. The battle starts with the brief and making sure there is a single message to grasp and understand. And sometimes this can lead you to places you may not have expected. 

One fantastic social media campaign in Australia did an excellent job of highlighting to young people the risks of melanoma and how it can sneak up on you. Instead of building a huge website and promoting it through expensive television ads, they went to the place where young Australians hang out…Instagram. They used an algorithm that found and “liked” hashtags and geo-located images of people on the beach and out in the sun. The campaign was called “Melanoma Likes Me.”

That reminds us that the case for simplicity doesn’t just apply to whatwe say, but with the astronomical rise of mobile usage, it applies to how we say it as well. People want healthcare information and the ability to manage their conditions in the palm of their hands. Our solutions must be easy-to-use, understandable, concise and mobile-friendly. One diabetes app, Diabetes Companion, has used gamification to help people monitor their blood sugar levels and to stay motivated.

Let your design express the main idea

We are responsible for designing and writing content that should not only be accurate medically but should be easy to digest and comprehend. If our work is not understood by patients across different health literacy levels, we will have failed our mission. A few years ago, Vytorin, a cholesterol drug, paired oddly shaped foods with family members to make the point that your cholesterol level is partly about what you eat and partly about genetics. A taco was paired with your aunt wearing a taco shaped hat. Bingo! People got it.

I am talking about making our work simpler, but not simplistic. Achieving simplicity is a balancing act. We never want to oversimplify to the point where we are leaving out important details or misleading in any way.

With a focus on the health and well-being of patients, clearly communicating information in a creative way to patients and doctors is truly the best service we can perform. Removing complexity in everything we do should be a priority for us all. Are you ready?

2 comments about "Navigating Complexity: A Creative POV".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, February 17, 2017 at 11:54 a.m.

    Excellent column. I'd add another challenge: how to make it distinctive, especially if you are a system charged with the complete spectrum of care. What makes your approach different?  Keeping it simple also keeps it distinctive. 

  2. Martin Torres from Digitas Health replied, February 19, 2017 at 11:11 a.m.

    Thank you Jonathan. And yes, great point about being distinctive. Much needed all around.

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