Sr. Creative Director, Havas Life Sorento, opens up on the evolving healthcare space, his experience while judging Lions 2018 and whether more pharma players are investing in OTC advertising
Healthcare has traditionally been seen as a creative backwater, packed with lazy benefit visualizations and stock shots. But if we were to now pay heed, while the veterans of advertising wring their hands over the declining quality of 30-seconders, a golden age of creativity is dawning in the health category. Ask Lyndon Louis, Sr. Creative Director, Havas Life Sorento, and he’ll tell you that creatively, there has been no better time to be in the Indian healthcare business than now. Louis who was on the esteemed Cannes Lions 2018 health and wellness jury, opens up on the evolving healthcare space, his experience judging at the Lions and whether more pharma players are investing in OTC advertising.
Louis feels that the evolution of the Indian healthcare communication scenario has, to a limited extent, reflected the changing texture of the global healthcare communication terrain. He remarks that that it has been happening at a more plodding pace here, compared to the global gallop, but sees craft and charter evolving. “The level of craft has really gone north. Healthcare marketers in India have slowly started to appreciate the role craft plays in lending a certain tone, personality and signature to a brand, building recall and achieving a cold, clinical business objective, and begun investing in it,” he says.
While judging Cannes Health this year, Louis shares that he could see a very perceptible shift in the work of today than what was presented five years back. “Charter is evolving. More and more ‘non-pharma’ or ‘non-healthcare’ companies are today seeing the potential and opportunity in the healthcare terrain, and plotting strategies around it. We are seeing a technology-based company take up the cause of preterm babies, a consumer goods company raise awareness about diarrhea, a sanitary pad brand attempt to create language to protect women from cervical cancer, the list goes on,” he continues.
Louis is quick to add that healthcare communication in India still has a long way to go. “In terms of simplicity and single-mindedness, tone and thought-processes, I believe the process of evolution has yet to gain momentum. There are admirable exceptions, yes, but as The Fountainhead says – ‘The exception proves the rule.'”
When quizzed about challenges and whether enough money is being allocated to it on agency partners, he admits that a couple of challenges do persist. “Many healthcare marketers in India do not get the difference between products and brands. While the term ‘brand-building’ does get bounced around in boardrooms quite often, healthcare marketers here usually lack the vision or the patience or the discipline to engage in proper brand-building. They rarely approach a brand (or even a corporate brand) from a purpose, sustainability or longevity perspective. Implementation falters. Much of what they do is centred around the ‘product’, its attributes and their short-term goals.”
Signalling towards budgetary cuts and constraints which often translate into campaign execution challenges and, the commoditization of concepts, he says, “Solid brand-building, life-changing ideas often end up in the creative .pdf presentation document.” Louis opines that there is the ‘what-if-the-new-idea-doesn’t-work’ syndrome. He shares that communication agencies are rarely looked at as partners. “The interactions are very matter-of-fact and transactional. The value a strategic / creative agency brings to the conference table is often undervalued – in both contexts of the word. Also, when a brand has to work in so many markets, each with its set of challenges and cultural nuances, many healthcare marketers in India feel the solution is to dumb down the communication to the lowest possible denominator- the ‘every-doctor-should-get-it-and-prescribe-my-brand’ mind-set. “
Speaking of his experience while judging at Cannes 2018, he says, “Judging Cannes Health 2018 was a phenomenal experience. We had the world’s best in healthcare communication, huddled in a cold, dark jury room for four days, guzzling coffee and mineral water (not to mention, the occasional, not-unwelcome Rosé) looking at every piece of work from 10 vantage points, debating ideas, strategies, craft, cadence, fonts, results and what-not, seeking work that took the industry forward. “
Louis opens up that while they didn’t award a Grand Prix in Pharma this year, they witnessed a remarkable idea-diversity. “We saw pieces of work that were at the cusp of creativity, humanity and business. It’s really difficult, but they proved it could be done. We saw real pharma work getting into its element, being backed by real big pharma companies; it was heartening, to say the least. Cause, concept, conversations, craft… pharma brands were having a field day at Lions Health 2018. Coming to India, judging from gems like ‘Blink to Speak’ and ‘Help a child reach 5’, I’d like to think the picture is changing. For the good.”
When asked about the key growth driving factors that Havas Life Sorento has identified, he says that he feels healthcare marketers in India have traditionally been favouring a ‘cost-based’ approach. “And that, I feel, has been one of the biggest challenges to growth, in every sense. Creative thinking, which is the currency of our industry, often gets undervalued. Worse still, commoditised. I believe, a change from a ‘cost-based’ approach to a ‘value-based’ approach could be one of the drivers of growth. It’s about working towards a change in mind-set. Having an integrated approach, in terms of the thought-processes and disciplines a communications group brings to the table, is definitely one of the means to realising that end,” reasons Louis.