Shock revelation: When it comes to healthcare we might be in danger of forgetting that a boring old rational RTB might be the best way to explain why we’re relevant to meet someone’s needs?

Muzeable Thinking No.26 posted by Tim Brooks 6th November 2017

A recent piece written by Tim Brooks, Advisor, Creative Leap/Director, Muzeable & David Gray, CEO, Creative Leap.

Emotional or rational? Rational or emotional? Both? Neither? Something else entirely?

In brand marketing, it is increasingly the received wisdom that successful brands/communication are more effective if they deliver emotional engagement, not necessarily exclusively, but above all else.

The debate is not new. We’ve been talking about emotional engagement based on deep human truth/insight for years. It is the inevitable result of a world where genuine product USPs are unicorn-rare and most categories are becoming commoditised and intensely competitive.

It is the source of endless client-agency ‘discussions’. The clichéd image of clients fighting for more of their features and benefits with a big RTB [alongside more and bigger logos]; the agency wanting to make a great, visceral, human truth film that will sell itself regardless of any overt branding. The reality? There is right and wrong on both sides.

A few months ago, we saw an excellent presentation on Neuroscience and its growing prominence in evaluating brands/communication. The talk [by Nielsen’s Dr Nikki Westoby] was part of the Museum of Brands on-going programme of talks etc.  Worth keeping an eye out for future events.

There was lots of fast brain/slow brain/behavioural economics – Kahnmann et al – and some compelling evidence for the need for communication to engage emotionally as well as rationally.

So, for the record, we totally, 100% agree with the narrative on the primacy of delivering emotional engagement.

But, thinking about healthcare/OTC it is important to acknowledge some potentially different dynamics that might de-prioritise emotional messaging – at least short term, or at key stages of brand/category development.

In all categories penetration is usually driven by relevance and distinctiveness. Fundamentally, brands/products need to meet needs – relevance – and they drive competitive advantage through doing this distinctively – they are better, cheaper or perceived as different or more ‘for me’ versus competitors.

OTC categories are not fundamentally different, but…

The ‘but’ is that, at certain stages of category development, or if you have a small, probably short term, window of ‘uniqueness’ in which to establish your Meaningful Difference it might be best to temporarily de-prioritise emotional engagement and put the foot to the metal on some rather dull, sensibly rational claims; to focus on practical relevance.

The evidence?

If you look at many of the truly mega success stories they have all been [at least initially] achieved with little interest or delivery of emotional connection. The focus has been driving relevance by demonstrating an ability to meet the consumer’s core needs either better or differently or by owning the generic benefit through a ‘killer’ claim.

Nurofen. Built its leadership entirely on a clever RATIONAL story. Targeted pain relief. With a fabulous RTB – because it works at the site of pain. You can explain its initial success through being new/innovative – but not its sustained growth. There is little evidence it has ever been truly emotionally engaging, but it is a brand to die for.

Sensodyne – now a billion-dollar brand – built itself on single-minded RATIONAL problem-solution communication – it stopped sensitive teeth. The advertising either expresses the problem or uses dentists to re-enforce the rational benefit/trust in efficacy.

Corsodyl/Parodontax – a true success story based on blood in the sink = gum problems [Symbol] Corodyl solves it. Basically, problem solution. We suspect it needs to build more emotional connection to reach the next level, but…

NB none of these brands deliberately ignores emotion. It’s just they built mega-brands without much focus on it. In fact, when they try to lessen rational relevance and increase emotional engagement… sales have had a tendency to dip.

It is fair to say that – at least briefly – they were relatively ‘unique’ solutions, so rational became more powerful. But, through sticking to the model, even when it got more competitive, they still grew… and grew.

It is important to acknowledge that in the medium term this can create issues. It’s hard to move from a simple, rational platform to suddenly turn on emotional engagement. Which, as a category grows and becomes more competitive, might be key to driving distinctiveness.

One of us (Tim) spent many years globally competing with Nurofen and knows the reality first hand.

‘We used to get endless research telling us Nurofen was ‘cold’/’clinical’ and lacked emotional connection with consumers [versus our brand, Panadol]. All we had to do was leverage this – because people need/want emotional connection and… But our real-world experience was that in many cases the same consumers who questioned Nurofen’s lack of warm, fuzziness… still bought it, repeatedly, even when our ads scored higher on emotion. They relied on it and trusted it to work!’

This article is not in any way an attempt to justify dull, insight-less, rational/problem solution communication in OTCs.  Or to question the power of emotional engagement. Heaven forbid. But, our point is, we do not see enough evidence of people thinking from both ends of the challenge.

Our simple point is that, sometimes, it might be best to focus on being best at delivering against the core needs of the category via some rational messaging [always supported by an insight or two of course] to drive your relevance. This is especially true in categories where consumers are not very interested, or at least it is hard to drive, emotional engagement i.e. all OTC categories!

Most OTCs work like this. You don’t always see the relevance of your slightly bleeding gums – it’s not a matter of life and death. You don’t care about Beechams – until you have a cold – in fact it’s invisible. But, when a cold strikes your fast brain will kick in. You anchor into the category’s core benefits and use heuristics around symptom descriptions and suffering images to find your solution. Emotion is not irrelevant – you might well feel quite emotional – but I would bet money that your fast brain short cuts are seeking functional product relevance more than ‘this brand understands me’.

Professor Patrick Barwise1 has written extensively on brands. His books Simply Better/Beyond the Familiar written with Sean Meehan put forward [among other things] a persuasive narrative that the brands that win in categories [as defined by share and market value] are not the ones who are ‘different,’ but usually the ones who are best at meeting the core needs of the category. This applies in healthcare with bells on.

So, if you manage some healthcare/OTC brands before you set out to be different spend some serious, expert brainpower/time trying to unlock some rational ways to drive your relevance –defining the emergent and established drivers of your Meaningful Difference.

Make sure your agencies/partners understand this and are able to supply healthcare expert input. They need to be au fait with this rather unsexy modus operandi (the science, regulations, HCP mind-sets and all that) and be specialist enough to get the differences in behaviours and insights in healthcare. Obviously, they need to be creative too. Even, if you decide that you need to be more emotional, the exercise of defining your ‘rational core’ will deliver a rip-roaring RTB. Only a healthcare expert/agency can deliver this level of meaningful difference.

The risk? You can spend lots of time endlessly sticking tails in donkeys – eyes closed – in the search for end of the rainbow emotional engagement. Truth might be the consumer just needs you to tell them why they actually need your products…

Creative Leap is a health & wellness/OTC specialist agency. We help brands to grow and find their Meaningful Difference through expert, insight-led (emotional and rational!), brand and communications input. A conversation costs nothing, so contact David Gray on 020 7549 0700 or for Muzeable, Tim Brooks on 07802 531578

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