This year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity featured many exciting discussions — from examinations of AI to celebrations of buzzy branded stunts. One inspiring addition to this year’s agenda was the 21Fathoms Healthcare Summit, the first in a series launched by healthcare advertising agency 21Grams, part of Real Chemistry.  

The series will bring leaders from across the industry together to address some of the biggest challenges holding creativity back in healthcare advertising. This inaugural Cannes 21Fathoms session specifically focused on market research’s role in creativity. And because 21Grams is driven by a mission of understanding audiences better than they understand themselves, the team enlisted neuroscience. 

“Neuroscience is an interesting field that we don’t apply to healthcare marketing as much as the consumer space does. It sheds light on how consumers make decisions -— and in turn, how we should evaluate creative work that strives to influence those decisions” said Christina Stoddard, head of brand strategy at 21Grams. 

Attendees included top-tier healthcare marketers, as well as voices from 21Grams and production partners.

Jeremy Thorpe-Woods, brand strategist and neuroscience expert, said, “The emotional intuitive system is absolutely in charge. The wiring of the brain massively favors the emotional center. It’s 5,000 times more powerful .… Consumer decisions are intuitive and immediate — not rational.”

Thorpe-Woods’ presentation sparked a roundtable discussion about how consumers digest creative in an implicit way, which is counterintuitive to how traditional market research works, as it’s inevitably rational, conscious and deliberate. 

Andrew Binns, head of innovation and digital at AstraZeneca, spoke about the purpose of research being not to tick boxes or be the major strategy driver, but to illuminate key aspects or needs. “It’s not about blindly ‘let’s just listen to our customers,’ because they don’t know what they don’t know — or what our marketing needs to achieve.”

“We need to identify the impact that these campaigns need to create. And often, creativity needs to usurp people’s opinions,” urged Binns. 

Marketers also discussed the challenges they face in a risk-averse pharma world and the need to apply research with the right objective. 

Shirley Lin, director of DTC marketing at Dermavant Sciences Inc., explained organizations may lean toward a scenario in which, “And now research is telling me this [option B] is safer, I’m going to remove risk and go with option B.” 

Lin pushed for thinking bigger. “For my patient, for my doctor, we have to break through — that’s what the challenge is.”

“We often go into market research expecting to get a whole lot out of it. But context really matters,” said Christiana Cioffi, VP, head of marketing, Shield Therapeutics Inc. “If we step back and think about one, two or three things we’re trying to get out of it, the market research will be more insightful and more effective.”

The group closed the session feeling inspired, with a renewed commitment to working toward a healthcare world where an understanding of the brain helps us better harness market research. 

“The neuroscience backs up what we intuitively believe about decision-making and advertising in the real world. And to deliver greater creative effectiveness, we need to be humble enough to respect how nature has wired us,” said James Graham, executive director at 21Grams.

“I hope all of the energy we had in the meeting and the workshops follow through to action to create best practices in the industry,” said Stoddard. She noted that through the 21Fathoms summits, 21Grams will continue to explore ways to advance creativity across the healthcare advertising industry.

View the video recap here.