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Indian healthcare advertising: No more playing second fiddle

From communicating to doctors and now engaging with consumers, Indian health advertising agencies have come a long way, bringing highest accolades for the country at international awards. What makes this segment standout? BestMediaInfo finds out

From freelancers creating mere designs for health brand managers to exclusive professionals doing life-changing creativity and purposeful advertising, healthcare advertising agencies have evolved and are no more considered poor cousins of their mainline counterparts. The Indian healthcare creative agencies have in fact become the face of the nation’s creative industry.

The creative work coming out of India for healthcare, wellness and pharmacy brands is making the global advertising fraternity standup and notice. The Indian agencies are no more playing second fiddle to the west.

Some great work has been showcased by Indians at the world’s biggest advertising festival, Cannes Lions, in the recent past. This year, TBWA\India fetched Health Grand Prix for Good for ‘Blink to Speak’. Last year, McCann Health won a Grand Prix for Good in the Pharma category for ‘Immunity Charm’ along with other Lions at the festival. The campaign also won at other international festivals. In 2016, Medulla Communications, an independent healthcare agency, was named the healthcare agency of the year.

Experts feel as the healthcare industry has evolved in India to become a global force, so has the advertising for the sector. The reason they say that the creative work in the sector is path-breaking is because healthcare ads require a lot of emotional appeal and that's where India-based agencies ace.

Healthcare has become one of India's largest sectors both in terms of revenue and employment. During 2018-22, the market is expected to record a CAGR of 16.28 per cent. The total industry size is expected to touch $372 billion by 2022.

Given the massive size of business, several agencies have already launched their separate set-ups to take care of clients in the sector.

Daleep Manhas

Daleep Manhas, Senior Vice-President and Country Head, McCann Health, said, “Like any other new idea or practice, healthcare advertising in India took time to grow roots. I think healthcare advertising is at a vantage point today. It is coming of age, where the best of creative and business minds are coming together to change its communication principles in fundamental ways. I believe that it is an exciting time to be in this industry because from this point it is only going to get better.”

The whole healthcare marketing environment has changed with the advent of epharma and newer devices. The way communication is designed in the health category has also evolved due to the advent of digital, which gave rise to channels like Medinfi, Docplexus and 1mg, which are more niche and talking to doctors and consumers through digital platforms.

Rana Bawa

Rana Bawa, President, Healthcare and PR, Ogilvy India, said, “Earlier, consumer healthcare advertising was driven by Chyavanprash. Now OTC (over-the-counter) brands have raised themselves. A lot of pharma players are investing massively in OTC advertising. So when the brands moved focus from doctors to consumers, obviously they brought in a whole lot of changesand that meant agencies also evolved.”

Agencies launching healthcare wings to cater rising demand

Given the high flow of business in the segment, several agencies have launched specialised set-ups for creative work.

McCann Worldgroup was the first network agency to launch its own healthcare set-up, McCann Health, in India, followed by Ogilvy, FCB, Mudra and others who opened their own healthcare wings.

“It was imperative because a large chunk of the marketsuch as pharmaceutical companies, medical devices makers and health products manufacturers were left behind due to a focus on consumer products’ advertising and advertising agencies catering to its needs,” said Manhas.

Before that, it was majorly freelance work that was happening and a few independent agencies among which Sorento could sail through and finally got acquired by Havas last year.

Sangeeta Barde

Sangeeta Barde, Havas Life Sorento, said, “It was a very exciting and challenging journey to run Sorento independently. We started at a time when very few organisations existed; there were more of freelance operators, small mom and pop shops. Despite being independent, we ran it very professionally.”

Praful Akali

A few years ago, Praful Akali, the former Ranbaxy and Pfizer marketer, launched his own independent health agency set up to cater to the gap existing in the healthcare advertising system. He said, “I figured out that the mainline creatives were not getting healthcare and the healthcare people were just not getting mainline. While healthcare advertising people were calling themselves healthcare advertising agencies, the work they were doing was typically a design work.”

“Healthcare is a very high involvement category and the marketing funnel is much longer where you need to move the consumer through the entire leg of the journey step by step. Mainline agencies were not getting this. Therefore, I thought of starting my own agency,” added Akali.

High regulations and lack of talent make healthcare advertising challenging

One needs a good mix of talent that understands the medical science along with creativity and it’s not easy to find this mix.

Sudhakar Gayakwad

Sudhakar Gayakwad, Vice-President, FCB Health, said, “Healthcare needs people with special skill sets, which includes a unique combination of pharma healthcare and marketing. Therefore, talent is difficult to come by.”

Barde said, “One needs a passion for healthcare, especially for healthcare writers and designers. Moreover, health understanding is necessary for healthcare planners, strategists and servicing.”

A lot of people aspire to join the creative industry, but not many aspire to join a health advertising agency. Bawa said, “It is still not very easy to attract the best of talent. We haven’t reached that level where people seamlessly say that they want to join healthcare advertising but it is growing. The challenge of talent has somewhat got mitigated because of the fact that people have got the opportunity to do some great work. This will foster the growth of people joining health advertising.”

Explaining why young talent do not find healthcare agencies lucrative enough to join, Manhas said, “Because most of the work happens in the regulatory category – people are wary of joining, as work doesn’t often go out in the world. Finding people who have domain understanding as well as an understanding of communications is a big challenge we face. The value of strategic thinking is not appreciated because healthcare work is thought to be fact-led and hence doesn’t need strategic thinking.”

Brands not spending enough money on agency partners

Though the industry is growing annually at 16%, advertising and marketingspends haven’t increased at the same pace. The healthcare agencies are paid less in comparison to the mainline ones. But with the advent of digital, things have started looking a little better in the kind of storytelling and creativity we are seeing in these times.

Bawa said, “Pharma doesn’t recognise the value of communication in their marketing mix or pharma has not been able to leverage the value of communication in their marketing mix. It is still very dependent on relationship and reps.”

Pointing out the reasons for brands not spending much money on their agency partners, Barde said, “A majority of the healthcare brands still depend on their field force to generate prescriptions/sales and hence major investment goes there. Additionally, investment in scientific content development is also high and hence the actual spending on health creative partners is lower.”

Giving a very logical rationale behind not much investments in pharma and health advertising, Manhas said, “Pharma can’t advertise on mass media, and hence, the work produced is more for company-doctor interactions. The project fees and retainers are also less. Most of the pharma companies work with local vendors and not with network agencies, hence, benchmarking concerning retainers is very different.”

He said, “Only a handful of pharma companies understand the value an advertising agency can bring on board as compared to a local sweatshop. Opening up of marketing excellence departments in many pharma companies is a boon for us and has helped us get a foot in the door.”

Back then, a whole lot of brand marketers were taken from the pharmaceutical background and have always looked upon science as their need and they talked the language of doctors, which tend to become boring for the consumers most of the times. Bawa said, “Not people only from pharma as the background, but MBAs and graduates from premium institutes are coming on board, who have read brand building and are, therefore, increasingly giving more space to agencies.”

He said, “Agencies have to assert themselves that after spending so much of time, we know the game and listen to us and derive value rather than instruct us. There is a mass improvement on that axis also.”

Making an important point, Akali said that it is important for healthcare brand marketers and creative agencies to understand the need to work with healthcare consumer specialists than approaching mainline advertising agencies for communicating with the consumers. He said, “Traditionally, health care agencies have been able to make a dent in the pharma space, but not in the consumer space. Biggest brands like Apollo are still working with the consumer advertising agencies and not the healthcare advertising agencies as there is a sense that consumer healthcare advertising is best managed by consumer advertising agencies and they don’t need healthcare specialists for that. Consumer healthcare advertising requires specialists and no one was getting it, which is why I set up Medulla.”

Gayakwad thinks that just like the mainline agencies have an organisation like Ad club to support them, the healthcare creative agencies should also come together to form an organisation. “The organisation can help manage industry remuneration and pitches. If we all come together, we might contribute to the talent pool and some courses going forward.”


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