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Guest Times: New age health, an evolving space

Shaziya Khan, Executive Planning Director, JWT explains the connection health brands should seek to build with their evolving consumers.

New Age Health, an evolving space

By: Shaziya Khan, Executive Planning Director, JWT

Health is evolving. Not just in terms of industry numbers (OTC market estimates - 18% CAGR, USD 3 billion 2012; PWC-McKinsey) but also in terms of consumer behavior and awareness. Consumers today are more aware (more paranoid?) than possibly ever before in history. As per Bupa Health Pulse, 2010, India ranks 3rd in the world in search for health advice on the internet.  Last but not least, in terms of behavior, health trends reveal that people today are growing older younger (JWT trends 2011).

Not surprisingly, healthy messages abound. While watching the news one is informed about new testing facilities, a gripping cricket game is interrupted by fear inducing health insurance messaging and sometimes, a long meeting is interrupted by a text message urging you to get back your lost hair! The timing in each of these all too familiar scenarios borders on comic-tragic.  There is a ‘healthy message’ waiting to be unleashed on you 24/7 whether you like it or not. What with the omnipresence of the web, paid-for messaging in mass media, editorial content in specialist health publications, health columnists and social gossip sessions are laced with gasps and gushes on weight loss, or otherwise.

In all this, the question that comes to mind is how does this impact the ‘health’ of health care brands and branding? More pointedly, what is the evolving connection health brands should seek to build with their evolving consumers?


As we reviewed contemporary health conversations globally, one overarching theme stood out. A wise author put it really well. “People don’t want health care! They want health!” A simple shift, but a profound one. Health, not health care is getting reflected in how winning health brands have adjusted their pitch.  This ‘shift’ is manifested in three distinct but related ways:

1.     Evolve from the ‘sick’ code to ‘life’ code: Big connections are made with consumers when the codes of communication do NOT magnify the problem. Health related communication now is relatively less about codes of sickness, sickly people, graphic demonstrations and so forth and more about codes of normalcy, zest, joie de vivre. It is more solution centric than problem centric. Berocca, a multi vitamin brand remained a small, stagnant brand for nearly 19 years. Then, it shifted its pitch from persuading consumers about their deficiencies to appealing to them to be in top form. A shift that resulted in increased ROI; for every one unit spent they earned two. In a similar vein, Revital stresses peak performance, with a sports hero endorsement. Brands like Saffola too are taking a relatively more life positive stance – enabling being young at heart (jawan dil).

2.     Social media to discuss health:  38% of people ‘look up’ health issues they have or might have on the web. “Monitoring me” – keeping a more watchful eye on health indicators is a key global trend. Thus, applications and electronic devices that help people track and monitor health are a key area of growth (JWT Global Energies study). Estimates corroborate anecdotal evidence gathered from health care professionals moaning about patients with little knowledge and lots of questions! A few health brands have actually leveraged this tendency by being early movers in social media. In India, Quaker oats have created a “good morning heart programme” with screen savers and a lot more for daily advice and information. Health messaging has gone beyond a problem-solution based context. It has gone to where consumers are i.e. their multiple screens and daily life. Globally, Johnson and Johnson have evolved a programme of co-creation of products with mothers via social media. Embracing social media is the heath brands’ version of taking the category out of the box, literally! It is time to think out of the medicine cabinet or its equivalent.

3.     Agenda setting in terms of health: Health today is not just about solutions, but about positive and constructive ‘movements’. In other words, health is firmly on the ‘agenda’. This means, health is championed at a ‘beyond brand’ level to embrace organizations, departments and even nations creating platforms for multiple partnerships. For instance, Michelle Obama’s hands on championing of anti obesity via the “get moving” programme; A UK wide initiative on change for a better life (diabetes management). While India has had long running family planning, vaccination etc programmes, the time is right to include in newer agendas. Girl child hygiene facilities, new parenthood are much spoken about areas in recent times. Can these also be on the agenda, and can brands embrace partnerships to expand their contribution, and impact?


Historically, health oriented brands have always stressed empathy and realness. How naturally people resonated with Iodex ‘ooh aah ouch’, ‘Coldrin li’ or Vick’s ‘gale me khich khich’. These brand promises described the ailment in such a real, yet catchy way. Today, however, there is a qualitative shift in the nature of empathic connection.  It is one that goes beyond treating the problem to treating the person. In that way, it is a more positive and broader empathy. New age health brands talk to “you” the person, not just to your problem.

This is because, today’s consumers relate to their health ‘problems’ in a more holistic way. 63% of Indian consumers agree that “I see my body as something I nurture, and I take an ongoing holistic approach to managing”. 70% of Indians agree that there are more health risks in society today than ever before (Futures Company Global Monitor, 2009). This is significant at two levels.  Firstly, consumers see health issues within the larger context of the demands of a modern lifestyle. Secondly and relatedly, as something they must ‘manage’. So their sense of health is connected with life fulfillment and not just problem solution. Brands that are in step with them do likewise.

Thus, health oriented brands’ relationship with consumers has shifted beyond one of authority, dignity and order (the patriarchal archetype) to also include companionship, relaxation, ease (the friend archetype).

In step with this, there has been a shift in the tone of voice of brands as well as is evident among the leaders in the category. Our review of health communication maps a shift in the tone of voice from order, control, mentoring, logic, dignity, authority to heroic, witty, resilient, confident, daring, joyous, free spirited, agile, relaxed. Nothing captures this shift in role of brand and tone of voice better than Tylenol, a pain relief leader globally which now simply claims ‘feel better’.  Or Zyrtec, an anti-allergy brand which focused its brand idea on how allergies can no longer prevent people from all the outdoor activities they love. Thanks to Zyrtec, they are free to literally, “love the air”. Zyrtec is rated as among the most admired new age health brands today.

Bottom line, Sell me health, don’t sell me health care. Happy World Health Day!


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