2 Minutes With ... Bruce Williams, ECD at Bastion Brands
After a quarter century in consumer, digital and direct marketing, Bruce Williams created his first project in healthcare seven years ago. That campaign, which encouraged HCPs to switch HIV patients to a single tablet regimen, earned universal awards and acclaim. Since then, his passion has grown for healthcare—and the challenge of finding the creative sweet spot in a category focused on medical data and patient results.
We spent two minutes with Bruce to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.
Bruce, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born in Seymour, a small country town in Victoria. Luckily my parents did want to see more so my first 12 years we moved all over Australia and for a few years to New Guinea, before settling in Melbourne.
How you first got interested in health.
I'd just started at Bastion Brands—not then a specialist healthcare agency—when a pitch came in from Gilead Sciences in the HIV space. I remember presenting three ideas that were all dismissed with "we can’t say/claim/do/think/dream/lean toward that!" Luckily one concept, the riskiest, led with a statement not a claim. We won the pitch. It showed me that great ideas can shine through, even in a tightly regulated landscape.
In Australia, healthcare marketing has been seen as a "creative black-hole," where ideas are sucked into a vortex of regulations, risk-averse clients and global brand guidelines. It has improved a lot recently, but that challenge—to go through the void and emerge with an awesome idea intact—is what keeps driving me.
One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.
They are all favorites! However, the above-mentioned campaign—which won best in show at Australia's top pharma awards, still makes me proud. We presented the vulnerable side of one of Australia's most recognized cabaret queen Dolly Diamond, via a stunning Andreas Smetana portrait, accompanied with a simple headline that really summarized the lack of understanding about HIV treatments.
HIV treatment has come a long way since then, STRs are now the norm. But seven years ago, the message really hit a nerve amongst specialists and the broader PLWHIV community and laid bare the need for honest conversations around what HIV treatments could and couldn't achieve.
A recent project you're proud of.
While not as controversial as "Dolly," I really like our work for Abbott Ensure. Our "They Say/I Say" campaign is a platform that's helping shift perception of Ensure as a dietary supplement designed solely for older people, to a lifestyle-enabling health shake for the young at heart. The strength of the idea allowed us to go beyond the traditional media like TV and gave us a platform to share real and inspiring stories of Australians who continue to defy their age and do what they love doing.
I'm most proud that we nailed a subtle solution to the insight in a very real way. Our research showed the audience didn't want to look at themselves as "zany older rebels," but quietly confident and strong individuals that just want help to do their thing their way.
One thing about how health is evolving that you're excited about.
Three years ago, when people asked "what I did," I’d put them to sleep explaining healthcare marketing. Now I tell them I work with brands like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and CSL—household names due to Covid—and the conversations seem much more involving.
There's no doubt health is more important to us than it’s ever been, which is exciting. Even brands "outside of pharma" are looking at wellness and care as integral elements of their public image, as important to their brand ethos as sustainability, for example.
Mental health is also an increasingly important aspect of our lives. In Australia, I am also on the board of a small charity, One in Five, who raise funds for research in mental illness. It’s exciting to see the developments in this area and how I’m doing my part to fund novel research that looks to treat the causes and not just the symptoms of mental illness.
Someone else's work, in health or beyond, that you admired lately.
I was honored to have judged Clio Health Awards last year. The standard of work and the insights that drove the creative blew me away! It made me realize that Australia has a long way to go to really push the creative boundaries. I’m working on this with every new client meeting!
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I’m currently reading Tim O'Brien’s "Dad’s Maybe Book." Basically an assortment of letters, lyrics, musings, thoughts, advice and notes—collected over 20 years of watching his two boys growing up. My own son gave it to me as a birthday gift, and it touched me that he could see the connection (I also have 2 teenage boys). The way O'Brien describes everyday life with his kids is captivating and confronting, you feel his rollercoaster ride of emotion—the fears, frustrations, dreams and desires any dad with boys could easily relate to.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
In Melbourne, we love our street art. I’m a big fan too. I love the rawness, impact and spontaneity. When it’s done well, it’s epic … and lucrative, with artists like R_O_N_E and mulgatheartist going from street art to big business through their talent.
Your favorite fictional character.
The ultimate misfit, hero of all anti-heroes and the iconic iconoclast. No one is funnier and more tragic than R.P. McMurphy from Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest."
I also love Buck the swashbuckling weasel from that Ice Age movie as well! He reminds me of my boys—full of adventure, positivity, energy, spirit and gusto for life! He doesn’t always get it right, but he gives it a bloody good go!
Someone worth following in social media.
Certainly not me … Facebook snubbed me after I was hacked, so now I'm just an onlooker on most platforms. I do follow some inspiring and well-meaning people. However the question of "worth’" does come to mind when it’s well past midnight and I’m still aimlessly scrolling.
Your main strength as a marketer/creative.
I love solving puzzles. I pride myself on taking a brief and working ideas through with my team to deliver the best creative solutions. And storytelling. Some people think visually, but I think in words first. It’s true a picture paints 1,000 words, but I’d argue that a few well put together words can do more for a brand than a picture. "Just Do It" and "Think different" spring to mind as pretty compelling examples of that.
Your biggest weakness.
I'm not a morning person, so I often miss the start of meetings! On the flipside, I will work all night if that's what it takes.
One thing that always makes you happy.
Time with family and friends on a summer night around a barbecue (and an ice cold Victoria Bitter beer in hand!)
One thing that always makes you sad.
The way we treat the planet and the wildlife and sometimes each other … makes me wonder sometimes how we call ourselves human.
Something people would find surprising about you.
I started my working life as a gardening apprentice at the Melbourne Zoo.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in health.
Writing the great Australian novel on the beach somewhere! It’s a nice thought, but really I'd still want to work on projects with purpose. The way we treat the earth scares me. So I’d like to reincarnate as someone with a mission to save the earth with better solutions to the myriad of issues we face—from global warming to over-fishing our oceans.
I'm inspired by the creativity and dreams of my teenage boys, and while they have their moments, their energy and intent on following their ideas is fantastic to engage with. I love watching them grow and exploring their options. Supporting their visions is important to me.
Tomorrow belongs to their generation, so what’s important to them needs to be vital for us. I guess being a teacher and guide to help bring their ideas to life is pretty special.
2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.