Global vs. US Marketing: Raising the Bar on “Cool”

Think Tank by PM360 on March 16, 2015

It is rare to find any healthcare ads among those end-of-the-year “Best of…” lists compiling the funniest, most viral or just most liked ads from the past year. Healthcare ads are just not considered cool. And yes, we know, there are regulations. But does that really mean we are regulated to see the same types of ads year in and year out.

PMS 360 asked a cross section of marketers what their thoughts are on the state of U.S. Advertising. Here’s what I had to say:

Remember that moment during your post-college European backpacking tour—maybe sparked by the sight of a nude beach or an irreverent billboard advertising yogurt—when you realized how different America is from other countries? We’ve always been a little prudish. And we take ourselves too seriously. This cultural attitude trickles down to advertising. Far from iconic and daring cowboys, Americans want to play it safe. Budgets and stakes are big. Careers are on the line. Not exactly a climate that encourages risk taking.

A friend and colleague, Helen Godley from Havas Lynx Manchester, pointed out that only in America (and New Zealand) do we promote Rx to the public, causing brands to be all things to all people: Disease awareness, product consideration, functional brand feature and patient benefit. Outside the U.S., the most rewarded healthcare ads tout disease awareness. Our way leaves ideas unfocused and self-serving. Disease awareness is more sincere and provocative.

Of course, more obvious restrictions exist. Take the coolest car ad you can find. Now throw five paragraphs of safety information and warnings on it and make all the text the same size. Suddenly—not so cool anymore.

If after all that, the concept hasn’t yet been diluted, there’s one more opportunity: Market research. We wonder why one idea isn’t doing all things for all people. We forget that America is a culture designed around heterogeneity. With a smaller, more homogenous target, our European friends are better able to connect to their audience in a focused and meaningful way.

Is there hope for healthcare advertising? Absolutely, but we have to remember advertising isn’t a brochure or a sales aid—it’s meant to move people. If we remember that, we may be able to move ourselves from the state of U.S. healthcare advertising.

You can read more about raising the bar on cool from fellow creative and advertising colleagues, at