How Merck Consumer Health's CMO is preparing people to live to 100

Diana Bradley asks Merck Consumer Health CMO Atilla Cansun about why the company is focused on preparing society for an average lifespan of 100 years.

Atilla Cansun
Atilla Cansun

You worked with Procter & Gamble for 17 years before joining Merck in 2013. Why the transition?
I never worked in healthcare before I joined Merck. It is very important to be able to relate to the category and its purpose. The contribution [Merck] gives to real people in their day-to-day lives showed me a different perspective than working on something like hair color.

How has marketing and communications changed since you joined?
The first year, I wanted to see what moves consumers, doctors, and pharmacists by intentionally and significantly emotionalizing our communications. We wanted to visually soften our comms but also use terminology and ideas that speak to the heart versus speaking to the left brain, which is masculine, binary, and black and white. Around 2014, we decided to use every opportunity to position our brands as sympathy holders – the ones who care, listen, understand, and hold hands with consumers. We called them "Love Brands."

At Cannes this year Merck launched the WE100 platform. What inspired it?
Love Brands was WE100’s precursor. We want to prepare society for a new era where people live 100 years. Life expectancy has picked up significantly since the 1960s, even in the least developed country. But the legislative environment, government, system that is overlooking people has barely changed. You go from school to a job, the rest is smooth sailing and counting our days to the grave once you retire.

What shaped the strategy?
We placed a big study to find out the pain point and needs of people in this context. That shapes the content we are chewing on and about to roll out in Europe and Africa. WE100 is about the right of everybody to look forward to 100 great years and ask their governments for all the support they need. At Cannes, I was trying to find partners in crime that without any financial expectations, out of the goodness of their hearts, will help us out – such as the media industry, pharmaceutical industry, and even royalty such as [Queen Elizabeth II] and the Pope. His endorsement could be a great help for families to take this seriously for their kids.

What initiatives do you have coming up around that?
Healthy Hour is about raising awareness and teaching kids how to prepare for a 100-year life versus just learning about the next 20 years and how you can be good in math, physics, biology, and maybe literature so you can nail the best college and job. We are kicking that off in Africa this fall with support and engagement from governments over there. We are relying on pharmacists and doctors who in smaller villages may be the teachers of the courses.

Another big project is We4You, which asks Merck employees to take time off in an organized way to help the elderly and better integrate them into society. We are doing this in Europe, working with the elderly on topics such as digital crash courses, knowledge about your bones, avoiding accidents, and restarting your professional life.

What areas are you focused on?
Women’s and babies’ health. Femibion is a pregnancy multivitamin. To support it, we came out with a campaign called Working Mothers, which is about recognizing the dedication of new moms to their babies that is perceived as holding back your career, turning it around, and recognizing your experience as a mom is a great qualification for a job as well.

What can moms bring to the table?
Skills moms have include listening, operational discipline, prioritizing, and multitasking, which are needed in the real world [for jobs ranging from] receptionist to the top manager. We have many female leaders. Our CEO, Uta Kemmerich-Keil, is a mother of two. The company has enabled her to go through her maternity leave, recognized her, and rewarded her to move forward. We have a lot of great stories from within our company that we will provocatively share with broader audiences in 2017. This is based in Germany and Austria, but we feel it is going to be universal.

What came out of the first Global Consumer Health Debate you threw earlier this year?
The biggest realization is that 70% or more of big decisions are made by women. We had better understand their hopes, wishes, needs and contributions to the health industry. In terms of consumer health, they are the gatekeeper for the entire family.

What’s your biggest challenge from a marketing perspective?
If doctors, pharmacists are not falling in love with what you say, they don’t care or remember about the info you provide them. If your nose is decongested in 15 seconds or 12, who cares? It is a beautiful, wonderful story that can be passed onto the next person. It is worth tweeting about, and sharing on YouTube with your friends. That is what matters for doctors, pharmacists, and nurses. The challenge for the healthcare industry is how we digitize our interaction with doctors, healthcare professionals, and consumers.

What agencies do you work with?
We work with Saatchi & Saatchi, SelectNY, and Ogilvy. From a PR perspective, Weber Shandwick helps us.

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.