September arrives. The kids go back to school and the flipcharts of PR teams everywhere fill up with ideas for next year’s campaigns. The planning season is upon us and we’re all looking for that creative idea to grab our audience’s attention.
But before I dive into planning, I’ll take some time to think about what we can learn from the year so far, and what it might tell us about the creative that will sink or swim in the months to come.
It has been a year like no other. Tremors of uncertainty over Brexit, Donald Trump’s divisive White House reign, the UK’s snap general election and the tragic events in Manchester and London have created a mood of uncertainty, even fear.
What kind of creative execution will resonate in this atmosphere? Do we need to go darker, to echo people’s fears and reflect their anxieties? I don’t think so.
Whether we’re trying to nudge consumers toward a healthier lifestyle or drive uptake of new treatment guidelines, behaviour change starts with understanding what our audience will pay attention to.
This summer, for a staggering 2.5 million people, the answer to this all-important question was Love Island. Of course, the good looks of the contestants and the idyllic island setting were no obstacle to the programme’s popularity.
What set Love Island apart from other reality shows, however, was its lack of cynicism and the fact that, although they had their spats, the contestants were often kind. Yes, it gave us a dose of escapism, but it also showed us a world in which people – even people competing with one another – are essentially nice. It left us feeling more positive about life.
Love Island isn’t the only place where positivity is cutting through. Toronto Hospital for Sick Children’s fundraising campaign could have used its young patients’ suffering as an emotional hook. Instead, it cast them as warriors; strong and defiant in the face of their illnesses. It made us cheer the children on, rather than feel sorry for them.
Similarly, Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ uses images of determination and strength to inspire women to take on the challenge of getting more active.
The appeal of both campaigns lies in their evocation of a sense of hope, empowerment and positivity. Aren’t those exactly the emotions we want to feel when we’re facing tough times?
In healthcare communications, we deal daily with emotive topics, from deadly illnesses to inequalities in treatment access, and we understand the power of engaging emotionally with our audiences.
Often, we do this by highlighting the burden of disease, the impact of a condition on quality of life or the devastating consequences of a lack of treatment.
It’s clear to me, however, that appealing to negative emotions – sadness, anger or fear – should never be our default route. We should challenge ourselves to think not only about what our audience will respond to, but also about what they want and need to feel.
Right now, for many people, that means a sense of hope and positivity in uncertain times.
Paul Tanner is the chairman of 90Ten