The hub

Where science is brought to life

Enhancing communication by using the relevant unexpected

Our chief creative officer, Malcolm Badger, shares his thoughts on the importance of marrying intelligent and emotive creativity and the search for the relevant unexpected.


23 July 2021

By: Malcolm Badger

Compelling creative ideas do strengthen connection and extend reach of communication. After many years working in both the consumer and now, predominantly, the healthcare sectors, it would be surprising if I didn’t know this to be true, and we’ve all read articles and reports that provide data supporting the effectiveness of creativity. So, while healthcare communication, for good reason, is bursting with complex science, detailed statistics and clinical evidence, that doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the fact that the marriage of intelligent and emotive creativity with inspiring content helps amplify strategic and marketing success.

Put simply, we do our job well when we find the right balance between the rational and emotional. Through ideas, images and content we strive to win hearts as well as minds. Each different environment and each audience we want to connect with can alter that balance, and every new project presents its own unique requirements. The joy of developing creative ideas is that every day we’re encouraged to learn new things and to think in new ways. Science and creativity make for an electrifying combination, where remarkable technology is woven into the fabric of remarkable human stories.

Creativity has a responsibility to respect the needs of the task

To do justice to the incredible healthcare knowledge we are asked to share, how do we make sure that we keep our communication convincing and pertinent to our audience who move rapidly in a crowded landscape?

It’s interesting that creative people can be labelled as ephemeral and scatty individuals, but if a ‘eureka moment’ occurs, it does not happen without hard work, or teamwork, and it certainly does not evolve within some chaotic vacuum. Well, it definitely doesn’t for the creative writing this article; creativity must be relevant if it is to be effective.

Powerful work is nurtured by having a system and process in place that allows creativity to flourish, but that also allows it to do so in an appropriate way. Effective communication is built from strong fundamental elements – great strategy, great clinical insight, great writing and great creativity. Of these, insight is the critical launch platform, especially in situations where, as is the case in most categories, so many brands seemingly offer the same thing. It’s deep and enlightening understanding that enables us to leverage points of difference and bring to life the science behind the brand. It is through structured and organised creative thinking that we develop memorable work that delivers success.

If we are to add real value, then the creative component has a responsibility to deliver based on the requirements of the ‘ask’, and surely we cannot do this without a guiding process in place? We are dealing with information and resources that can profoundly affect the health and future of people around the world. Creativity that is developed for its own sake is self-indulgent, is likely to have short-term impact, and will probably not do justice to the science and professionalism that underpins the product or services it represents. We have a professional duty to harness creativity for the benefit of our clients’ communications, their audiences and those who need healthcare support. ‘Blue sky’ creativity may prove popular with some creative peers, but how likely is it to make a difference to the professionals and patients seeking knowledge and support?

Evaluating creative ideas using the relevant unexpected

While we should always respect project needs, this doesn’t mean we stop being creative, but it does mean that we have to think harder, and be smarter, about what we do. And that, for me, is what makes healthcare communications exciting and of real value.

Naturally, one of our primary objectives is to grab audience attention, and evocative creativity can help us to do this. But how do we judge whether our creative proposals are on the right track? Years of experience and collaborative professional judgement are invaluable, but at Cognite, we also gauge the potential effectiveness of a creative idea by its ability to deliver something we call ‘the relevant unexpected’. We evaluate ideas based on their ability to speak to the needs, interests and views of a specific audience, but we are also looking for them to engage and inspire the audience by being unexpected, surprising and maybe even challenging. After all, the bland or predictable is not likely to become compelling communication that will grab anyone’s attention!

A creative idea that surprises, intrigues and/or appropriately challenges is worth its weight in gold! What otherwise might be considered wallpaper is elevated to become something that demands attention and inspires action. When we get it right, it shows creativity in its most potent form. It’s not driven by a mission to win industry awards (although it’s nice when we do, and we do), it’s driven by the desire to win share of voice and improve outcomes for everyone.

Understandably, we do not share our clients’ confidential work in the public domain, so showing an example of the relevant unexpected is not really possible. But I can recount an example that I worked on with a creative colleague and good friend that I always felt delivered this aspect well. We were asked by our client to communicate the benefits of a treatment for intermittent claudication. Put very simply, the condition is caused by atherosclerosis; it can be very painful, and it can reduce the patient’s ability to walk. The obvious approach would have been to show an image of a typical afflicted patient with appropriate copy indicating their condition. But patient insight revealed that one of the hardships high on the list of woes for many people was that they were no longer able to spend time out and about with their dog. What was our relevant unexpected solution? We developed a successful campaign that showed sad canine heroes, with their dog leads at the ready, and with the simple headline “Walkies!”. The idea was insight driven and highly relevant, but it certainly wasn’t what might have first been expected. It had impact and emotion, it differentiated the brand, and it was relevantly unexpected!

It’s a dog-eat-dog world when it comes to winning share of voice, but effective and inspiring creative solutions will always help to empower important content and get audience attention.

Read more:
Predictions for the rare disease landscape in 2034
Read more
16 May 2024
Empowering solutions in Medical Affairs
Read more
11 September 2023 |