A Critical Time for Creativity in Healthcare

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As more mainstream agencies have been putting out campaigns for non-health brands, Guy Swimer, ECD at McCann Health London, ponders the creative world of healthcare. He discusses how the creative and competitive bar in healthcare is being raised and how specialist agencies could and should be responding. 


This year, Health categories have been more fiercely contested than ever at leading award shows like Cannes. Winning an award of this stature can change the trajectory of an agency, a brand, or an individual, and the pandemic elevated the profile and relevance of health and wellness issues.

As specialist health agencies, we’re now used to competing against bigger, more mainstream players: this year’s Cannes Lions Grand Prix in Pharma was won by a tech company, Dell Technologies, and VMLY&R for “I Will Always Be Me,” an initiative to help people with motor neurone disease.

For decades, pharma and health advertising was seen by many established agencies as a less creative playground, because so much of the work wasn’t seen in the public domain, or because the brands, challenges and regulations surrounding them were seen to be creatively limiting. But, with a new prominence and awareness of Health awards, we’ve all learnt a lot more about the potential for this sector and the impact of the choices we make.

It’s no longer enough to have a great idea. To encourage real behaviour change, you need to combine that idea with innovative thinking and emerging technologies, because only by bringing all this together can we harness the power of creativity to open up new possibilities and genuine advances.

Health agencies have the expertise, the science, and the know-how to continue leading the field, as long as we too are prepared to step out of our own lane and be brave enough with our ideas.

McCann Health London has an Expert division with doctors, pharmacists and dentists all part of our team. They provide vital insights on the role of health brands in the lives of our audiences, and some of them continue to practice as part-time professionals, so they maintain key industry knowledge amongst their peers.

They give our campaigns a unique perspective, and the potential to make the work more relevant, more interesting, and more unusual than the competition.

Healthcare agencies have had years of experience of negotiating a world in which emotions are laid bare. Our creativity is not the product of a search for awards glory, it is powered by a genuine interest in the issues we deal with, the same ones we live and breathe, day in day out, in a way that impacts on everything we do.

For Health agencies, the effectiveness of our work is not only measured in awards: it’s measured in greater knowledge of life-threatening conditions or better treatments for them, it’s measured in families being able to stay together longer, in better news for you or your loved ones, in the quality of life for patient audiences.

Health marketing has gone mainstream, and as a result it attracts more creative and innovative thinking, new technologies and techniques, and greater competition, which raises the creative bar for everyone.

It’s not necessarily about specialists vs non-specialists, or ads vs apps. The increased knowledge of healthcare issues and the development of new treatments are fast expanding the category. There has never been a more critical time for creativity in health because ultimately, the best creative work in our sector isn’t about winning awards or following category convention - but saving lives.


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