Healthcare and the Aspiration Trap

When it comes to healthcare brands, it is a delicate balance between being aspirational and being authentic.

by Mike Cronin, VP, Creative Director

“What our brand needs,” says the brand manager, advancing the PowerPoint to a dramatic grand finale, “is to be aspirational.”

“Yes,” the marketing team nods vehemently around the conference table, “That’s it!”

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before.

For a healthcare brand being aspirational feels like a no-brainer. We want to radiate health and happiness. We want to build a positive association with consumers. We want our creative work to show happy, healthy people doing happy, healthy things and generally looking happy and healthy.

But be careful.

Why? Because there’s this other word we marketers like to throw around that’s just as important. Authenticity. And we like to use it for good reason. Authenticity leads to credibility and credibility is a powerful motivator for the healthcare consumer.

But if being aspirational means presenting an ideal version of reality your audience aspires to, and if being authentic is about being transparent and real, how are we to bring these two somewhat opposing ideas together in our creative executions?

That’s the aspiration trap.

Let’s face it, the healthcare industry is seen by many consumers as opaque and frustrating. Few people aspire to visit a doctor or sign up for Medicare. How do we balance the aspirational image we want to present as a healthcare brand with the reality of where consumers are at in relationship to the healthcare industry?

When it comes to healthcare marketing, the balance should tip toward authenticity. A healthcare brand must avoid feeling disingenuous at all costs. The creative work needs to show that we empathize and understand where consumers are truly at. Showing an elderly couple riding a tandem bike down a beachfront boardwalk or a family summiting a mountain together may seem aspirational but it is not reality for most people.

And that’s the aspiration trap.

This doesn’t mean we have to walk away from showing happy, healthy people, it just means we need to do so in an authentic, meaningful way. Maybe it’s avoiding using actors and models and instead using real people. Maybe we tell our stories in a different way. Maybe it’s building proprietary libraries of images rather than using stock. Any way of avoiding stereotypical images and tropes that have been used a million times before in healthcare will help.

The most challenging part may be moving the creative through your team. Because while some marketers like to use words like aspirational and authentic, they may have a hard time dealing with it when they see work that embraces these values and feels different for the category. But as long as it is built on a strong strategic platform (that’s a whole other article), it is for precisely this reason the work should succeed.