The Barbecue Test: Lighting a Cultural Spark Across Healthcare Ads and Creativity
Bernardo Romero is the 2023 Clio Health Awards Craft Jury President. The show takes place in NYC on June 15. Tickets are on sale here.
Picture yourself at a barbecue, standing by the grill surrounded by friends of friends. You find yourself engaged in an awkward conversation with someone you've never spoken with before. You rattle through the typical small-talk topics: weather, sports or the latest shows you're binging. But do you remember a time when great advertising was part of these conversations? For me, back in Rio de Janeiro—known for its unparalleled creativity—our barbecue chats would include Havaianas flip flops' latest spot, or Guaraná soda's unforgettable new jingle.
Advertising was once celebrated culturally, and it held a place in casual conversations around the world. But sadly, the younger generation, including my 7-year-old son, will grow up without exposure to those classic commercials. In fact, he has never seen a single one. Advertising is no longer relevant enough to spark discussions at barbecues. And this is a huge problem for the entire ad industry.
On top of this, traditional pharma advertising has never managed to capture cultural relevance—except in jokes by stand-up comedians, SNL parodies and assorted mockery. This is partly why we don't think of doctors and patients beyond healthcare. We refuse to acknowledge them as folks who appreciate entertaining messages on pertinent topics. We still regard wellness marketing as different from consumer advertising.
All this being said, I believe there has never been a better time to be in healthcare advertising. Gen Z-ers see the category differently. They want to experience healthier lives with more balance and purpose, especially since the pandemic. The entire landscape of advertising is transforming out of sheer necessity, and that's a good thing.
Healthcare marketers must work even harder and concentrate on what matters—capturing the most valuable asset in the world, people's attention. Healthcare has the most impactful and emotionally charged stories imaginable. Let's ask ourselves if we are telling these stories in the best way possible and at the same level as streaming and gaming.
Consider The Father, the Academy Award-winning feature film about Alzheimer's disease that cost $6 million to make and grossed over $37 million worldwide. If this film had been produced by a pharmaceutical company, not only would their message have reached millions, but they would have also earned a very healthy return on their investment. Sounds like an incredible opportunity for any brand—pharma included—doesn't it?
Long story longer, I'm rooting for you. I'm rooting for us. Instead of being driven by ego and attempting to dim down the work of competing agencies, let's stand for innovative solutions and exceptional thinking that tackle age-old problems. Let's celebrate one another. Why? Because the better and more culturally attuned the work, the more relevant it becomes.
I want to see us all pass the ultimate litmus test of cultural relevance—the barbecue test. This would mean increased revenue, elevated efficacy and more value placed on creativity in healthcare than ever before. Most importantly, it could also translate to saving and improving more lives.