DigitasLBi's Carlos Ricque on Why Simple Ads Are the Hardest to Make

Marketing is hard.

We all know what we're up against: thousands of competing ad messages daily, short attention spans, multiple screens, blah blah blah … And if you work in health marketing, you have to factor in layers and layers of regulations and approvals. No wonder so much of what we see is wallpaper. The odds are against us from the start.

So why do so many marketers make it harder on themselves by insisting on adding every single product detail and real-time bidding in their advertising? When you want to get a message through, simple wins. It's that simple.

For proof, I pulled some of the work that stood out in the jury room at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year. The ads I selected aren't all for health and pharma products, but they could have been. What makes them stand out is their singular focus on a simple idea, delivered in an unexpected way.  

It's simple. But it's not easy.

Campaign: Old Age
Company: The Samaritans
Agency: Y&R, Shanghai
An idea so simple it doesn't need a headline. Just a powerful illustration that says, “We get it,” and an assurance of support. With a little more legal copy (O.K., fine, a lot), this series of posters for a counseling hotline could just as easily have been for an anti-anxiety medication or another medication. Putting the focus on what the reader is going through makes the message emotional and powerful without resorting to pandering.

Campaign: Frederick Jones
Company: Donate Life America
Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago
Another poster that says a lot with very little copy. This kind of advertising should be the gold standard for health marketers. The benefit of organ donation can be seen at a glance, and the message is clear: One person can help many. No over-promises; just facts, delivered visually and powerfully.

Campaign: Envy
Company: Svenson Hair Center
Agency: Tapsa|Y&R
A TV spot for a hair treatment clinic. The singular, unforgettable premise? You wish you had hair like this. There's no need to over-deliver product information when you deliver a powerful emotion with which consumers can identify. They'll use other channels to tell consumers why their product is better. TV is best to answer the big question: “Why should I even consider you?”

Campaign: Fabogesic - Moving
Company: Savant
Agency: J. Walter Thompson Argentina
This TV spot uses an analogy to make a very focused point — pain shouldn't last a long time. Notice there's no fast-acting relief graphic, no over-acting person with a headache holding his or her forehead. They give the viewer credit for understanding the analogy and allow themselves to be single-minded, and (dare I say it) entertaining. Great work.

Campaign: This Bike has MS
Company: MS Australia
Agency: Grey, Melbourne
This is a novel way to communicate disease awareness, precisely because the idea is so simple at its core: show people what it's like to have the disease. In an age of immersive virtual reality, digital modeling, and all the rest, the fact that the client centered the campaign around a physical, practical object to make the point shows incredible insight and resourcefulness.

Campaign: Prediabetes
Company: Ad Council
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather New York
People don't do diabetes screens because the tests are often time-consuming and they have better things to do. So this self-exam kept things really easy — a simple site, a quick seven-step screener, and an entertaining “doctor”-led exam that you can do during a commercial break. All designed to keep things light, and if you score high, get you motivated to see a real doctor. Smart.

Carlos Ricque is an SVP of creative at DigitasLBi.