Creativity in Healthcare: A Shift in Focus or a Better Lens?

Jaimy Lee is the executive editor at MM&M.
Jaimy Lee is the executive editor at MM&M.

It's that time of year when marketers and agency people begin to furrow their brows, take long pauses before they speak, and then begin to talk earnestly about things like “inspiration” and “life-changing” work.

Yep, that's right. The Cannes Lions Health festival is upon us. It's time for meetings that revolve around coupes of rosé on the Carlton Terrace. It's also time for the professional creative inferiority complex to pop up for people who make pharmaceutical ads.

They worry that the Lions Health grown-up siblings — the oh-so-important Cannes Lions main event and the festival's new innovation sideshow — will look down on the Pharma Lions (but never the Health and Wellness Lions, because they are doing good).

They wonder if they are being judged for their paltry efforts at creativity in the strictly regulated medium where their clients reside, forgetting that in some cases the medicines they sell actually save people's lives. (Granted, sometimes those efforts in creativity are primarily used to market third-in-class drugs priced just as high or higher than the innovator product.)

But what healthcare marketers seem to forget is that creativity abounds in restriction.

In fact, researchers studying creative writing found that students become more creative if they abide by certain rules. While talking to the magazine Pacific Standard, one of the researchers called it the “Green Eggs and Ham hypothesis.”

Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, was reportedly challenged by his publisher to write a book for children using no more than 50 words. The result? The now-iconic Green Eggs and Ham.

Last year a pair of talking fish joking about their triglyceride levels won the first Pharma Grand Prix. (A year earlier the jury had declined to award a Grand Prix in the category, a decision that is rare in Cannes festival lore but has occurred.)

See the story: Grand Prix drought ends, but questions persist

Some people disliked that campaign. Some thought it just wasn't good enough to win the first Pharma Grand Prix. Others thought it didn't reflect the important work that the “rest of the pharmaceutical industry” does. Some agency leaders wondered whether the work even led to higher sales or a shift in brand awareness.

Did it inspire? Perhaps. It's hard to tell. Many drugmakers and their agencies don't — or won't — talk about the work they do. I expect there is creative, inspiring work being done that takes into account the complexities of health, the expertise of the science, and the maze that is the U.S. healthcare system. And I expect that that should be recognized for what it is.

Jaimy Lee is the executive editor of MM&M.