How the pandemic has changed health marketing

Putting evidence at the foreground of messaging and a move away from celebrity wellness influencers could all be on the horizon.

As people’s everyday lives have changed as a result of COVID-19, so, too, has the healthcare marketing paradigm.

Pharma agencies strategy spoke to noted how aspects of health and wellness – such as health protection, hygiene and nutrition – have all become much more important to consumers, so brands are putting more focus on highlighting nutritional value and physical distancing options like telehealth and digital engagement tools.

While COVID-19 may have accelerated the digital aspects of healthcare, the bigger cultural shift, according to Neill Brown, managing director at McCann Health Canada, is that consumers will be focusing on “facts over fiction” and responding to more evidence-based practices. “Throughout the pandemic you could just see, at the government levels – both here and in the U.S. – people have been turning to the experts who understand science for the right answers,” Brown says. Recent polls support the trust impact, Leger found 92% of Canadians trusted healthcare professionals and 81% trusted public health officials.

“There’s going to be a re-thinking of celebrity influencer culture,” Brown says. While consumers were willing to listen to the Kardashians on wellness trends like detoxes and cold remedies, there is going to be more stock placed in advertising that makes the evidence more clear, from relevant health professionals.

“We shouldn’t be pedalling any false hopes, any miracle cures, [or] any solutions based on conjecture alone,” he adds. “We have to distill down [to] the core of what we want to say and get it across in the most simple and useful way, activating the voices who can deliver that information most credibly,” which include doctors, registered dietitians and pharmacists.

Lori Grant, president of Klick Health, believes the cultural shift is about the realization of the impact of health and wellness messaging. “The industry we’re in is fact-based, scientifically-driven and has tremendous value on the world stage,” she says. “I think that magnification is one of the biggest changes that COVID has accelerated.”

And striking the appropriate tone for a message is going to be as important as ensuring that it’s based on solid science, Brown says. “Marketers can sometimes explore metaphors and hyperbole a little bit too far. I think what you’ll start seeing now is more of a sober voice, more of a responsible nature of marketing, to hone in on what the utility is of the brand, rather than what the advertising story is.”