Mccann Health, Cannes Lions Health­care Net­work of the Year, hosted a roundtable to dis­cuss the role of cre­ativ­ity in a new world or­der where pop­ulism is un­der­min­ing trust. By Suzanne Bid­lake

Campaign UK - - PROMOTION -

You may not be­lieve it, but fake news and the rise of pop­ulism is chang­ing the face of ad­ver­tis­ing – for the good. Jeremy Per­rott, global chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Mccann Health, brought to­gether an eclec­tic group in Cannes last month: a for­mer as­tro­naut, a singer, a di­rec­tor, an UN rep­re­sen­ta­tive, agency cre­atives and pharma brand mar­keters. He was look­ing for an an­swer that is ar­guably more im­por­tant for health­care ad­ver­tis­ers than most oth­ers, but it af­fects all who care about com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

“The whole world’s sore. It’s up­side-down and ev­ery­one is ques­tion­ing ev­ery­thing. So how do we re­tain the in­tegrity in our com­mu­ni­ca­tions?” he asked. The an­swer, af­ter 90 min­utes of dis­cus­sion, lay in the arts of con­ver­sa­tion, em­pa­thy and ed­u­ca­tion. But there is likely to be a whole lot of dis­rup­tion along the way.


Health­care com­mu­ni­ca­tion is based on ev­i­dence, but this is a ca­su­alty of the “tsunami of pop­ulism”, ac­cord­ing to John Cahill, the global chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mccann Health. Yet, even when you go to the moon, some peo­ple as­sume you faked it, for­mer NASA as­tro­naut Mike Mas­simino said. “It’s too in­cred­i­ble,” Great Guns di­rec­tor Jonty Toosey ob­served, adding that con­spir­acy the­o­ries can be so much more ex­cit­ing. “So if you’re ab­ducted by an alien,” Mas­simino ad­vised, “make sure you come back with a sou­venir to prove it.”

The speed of fake news and the rise of a pop­ulist idea and move­ment is an­other chal­lenge for ad­ver­tis­ers. “The time be­tween an idea be­ing de­ployed and a counter-nar­ra­tive tak­ing root is pretty much non-ex­is­tent,” Ghana­ian singer and so­cial ac­tivist Rocky Dawuni said. “In an era where you can’t find truth, truth be­comes a more valu­able cur­rency. It’s up to us to use com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a way that stakes a claim to what truth re­ally is.”

Asna Tow­fiq, mar­ket man­ager at Global Al­liance for Clean Cook­stoves (Bangladesh), who works to re­place dan­ger­ous cook­stoves and fu­els with safer and cleaner op­tions, agreed with the need for ev­i­dence in her line of busi­ness, es­pe­cially when you are work­ing with life­sav­ing prod­ucts and tech­nolo­gies. But, Dawuni added, data is noth­ing with­out the sto­ry­telling around it that shows what it re­ally means for peo­ple and why it is im­por­tant.


When pharma com­pa­nies or agen­cies talk about the con­tri­bu­tion of in­no­va­tion in the in­dus­try to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life over the past 100 years, some an­tipharma lobby groups dis­tort the facts and ques­tion it. “So what­ever cre­ativ­ity we use in our mes­sag­ing, it has to be mob-ruleproof,” Cahill said.

But if pop­ulism is the ris­ing up of the masses against the elite, is it be­cause it is leav­ing the masses be­hind, he asked?

Could it be that the pharma in­dus­try is us­ing out­moded ways of learn­ing who peo­ple are, what’s im­por­tant to them and what they want? The health­care in­dus­try typ­i­cally never en­ters into di­a­logue with its con­sumers and so nei­ther side learns or changes its view about the other, Cahill sug­gested. “Would pharma still be thought of as a pariah if we had more con­ver­sa­tions and fewer pre­sen­ta­tions?” If you look at the pos­i­tive side of things, pop­ulism can ac­tu­ally drive di­ver­sity – be­yond gen­der and race – and help to move our in­dus­try for­ward, which is very im­por­tant, Mar­cia God­dard, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Mccann Torre Lazur, said.

Ev­ery­one agrees that sto­ry­telling around data and ev­i­dence is cru­cial. But Markus Saba, Eli Lilly and Com­pany’s se­nior mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, global di­a­betes brands, asked for help from agency cre­atives. “For me, it still comes down to cred­i­bil­ity. I need help with the cre­ativ­ity around how we cre­ate a source of au­thor­ity that is le­git­i­mate in the mind of the pop­ulists,” he said. “We live in a global mar­ket,“added Toosey, and ev­ery­thing’s hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where. “But when you lo­calise the nar­ra­tive, it makes things much more per­sonal and it has more of an im­pact.”

Partly it’s about break­ing through the tech­nol­ogy bar­rier and ac­tu­ally talk­ing to peo­ple and con­nect­ing, Mccann Health­care’s ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor, Frank Maz­zola, added. “Ev­ery­body com­mu­ni­cates vir­tu­ally th­ese days so ev­ery­thing feels kind of dis­tant.”

The dis­con­nec­tion from any­one out­side your own bub­ble is a real is­sue, ar­gued Ronny Greif, vice-pres­i­dent, head of busi­ness part­ner­ing pro­cure­ment – mar­ket­ing PHARMA at Bayer. “In the past there was a truth. Now you cre­ate your own truth, de­pend­ing on what so­cial me­dia you choose.”


“Pharma is per­ceived as the bo­gey man in this”, Saba said, and health­care is the last in­dus­try not yet dis­rupted. “I ar­gue that it’s un­sus­tain­able. It’s go­ing to break and we’re ripe for dis­rup­tion. Some­thing is go­ing to come in that’s a dis­rupter.” That will be cre­ativ­ity, Per­rott con­tended. “It’s cre­ativ­ity that has to shift per­cep­tion.”

“While we will al­ways fo­cus on pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble care when peo­ple are sick – it is crit­i­cal that we spend the same amount of time on well­ness. We, by and large, view the sys­tem as sick care as op­posed to health care, mean­ing peo­ple only use their health care when they’re sick. It’s time that we change this,” Stephen Cas­sell, vice-pres­i­dent, global brand­ing, at Cigna, said.

Peo­ple as­sume pop­ulism is based on fear, but it can also be driven by in­spi­ra­tion, Dawuni sug­gested. Giv­ing peo­ple pos­i­tiv­ity and a “glim­mer of hope” might be a way to harness its power – a gen­uine mes­sage of “com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy, hope.”

Em­pa­thy and au­then­tic­ity – par­tic­u­larly the lat­ter – are in­deed the key, ac­cord­ing to Cahill. Ev­i­dence used to equal truth and truth used to en­gen­der trust. “Now the pharma in­dus­try is los­ing so­ci­etal trust,” he con­ceded. “Pharma doesn’t need to tell peo­ple how many hours they’ve spent in R&D, but in­stead to ask how they can au­then­ti­cally rep­re­sent them­selves to them. Not sell­ing, but ‘al­ways lis­ten­ing’. Have a con­ver­sa­tion. Gain in­sight.”

Many busi­nesses are now “go­ing be­yond the trans­ac­tion” and act­ing with more so­cial en­ter­prise. “As cre­ative agen­cies, we can work with our clients to take the high ground and build on pop­ulist move­ments,” Mccann Health Amer­i­cas pres­i­dent, Amar Urhekar, said.

Per­rott summed it up: “It’s funny, I came to this con­ver­sa­tion, think­ing ‘I won­der how neg­a­tive this is go­ing to be?’ But, I ac­tu­ally think this has been a very pos­i­tive con­ver­sa­tion. The fear fac­tor of pop­ulism isn’t there for me. It’s ac­tu­ally turned out to be some­thing re­ally cool.”

“Mov­ing for­ward, I think we need to write a brief. But I don’t think it’s a brief for the agency”, Per­rott sug­gested. “I think it’s a brief for us, be­cause we’re go­ing to need to make a cul­tural change. We’ve got to ed­u­cate the peo­ple who are re­luc­tant to change and help them see some­thing pos­i­tive about the world they’re liv­ing in. We need to em­brace the power of pop­ulism and make it our brand. “

“The way to em­brace the power of the pop­ulist dy­namic is to cre­ate new con­ver­sa­tions where pharma is part of the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween doc­tor and con­sumer,” Cahill added. “The tools of con­ver­sa­tion are be­ing built by con­sumers them­selves – let’s learn from that.”

Cahill pledged that Mccann Health will come up with “three tools of con­ver­sa­tion to change the paradigm”. The agency had al­ready done some early work, he said. “Let’s push it harder.”


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