Praful Akali, founder and managing director at Medulla Communications.
Praful Akali, founder and managing director at Medulla Communications.

Word of mouth and social media tend to work well in healthcare advertising: Praful Akali

Praful Akali, founder and MD at Medulla Communications, talks about his experience at Cannes, the state of healthcare advertising and why consumers do not trust most of the healthcare ads in India

New Delhi: Praful Akali, founder and managing director at healthcare agency Medulla Communications hosted a unique session at the recently concluded Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Titled ‘Life-changing creativity’, the session was conducted with Pooran Isarsingh, an 85-year old terminally ill patient who featured in agency’s ‘Laugh at death’ campaign last year.

“Annie Smith, head of content at Lions Health said they never had anyone talk about their motto of ‘Life changing creativity’ and suggested we should do it this year," said Akali. In an interview, Akali talks about his experience at Cannes, the state of healthcare advertising in India and why consumers do not trust most of the healthcare ads in India. Edited excerpts:

How was your experience hosting a session for the first time at the Cannes Health Inspiration platform?

The session was unique because we brought patient perspective on laughing at the idea of death through Pooran Isarsingh and how the campaign changed her life. Along with my brother and also Medulla’s co-founder Amit Akali we also shortlisted previous healthcare category winners and presented their journey through impactful quotes in the session.

What does life-changing creativity means to you?

Honestly, most advertising is designed to generate value for the brand but when it also generates value for the audiences then it becomes ‘life changing advertising’.

What is current state of healthcare advertising in India?

In the last four years, Indian healthcare advertising is literally leading the way globally. TBWAIndia Mumbai ‘Blink to Speak’ campaign, executed for Asha Ek Hope Foundation, bagged Grand Prix for Good this year. It is biggest honour at the international advertising festival. Last year, McCann Worldgroup India (McCann Health India) campaign titled Immunity Charm created for Afghanistan ministry of public health also won Grand Prix for Good.

While I feel that Indian agencies are doing a great job at creating award winning work, there is still disparity between advertising done for awards and commercial purposes. The commercial ads that health and pharma companies create must connect deeply with consumers.

For instance, we have created a television campaign for sports nutrition brand Muscleblaze which did not look like a typical TV ad hard selling a product it truly connected with the consumers. This is the kind of work which will create impact but for that to happen, clients will have to trust their agencies more.

What do the healthcare campaigns lack?

In the healthcare space, consumer trust levels are highly low. There’s a huge lack of believability and credibility in health advertising in India. We have to reach out to patients hearts and life to be impactful.

Secondly, the insights behind our health campaigns are superficial and it is also common across advertising. Brands are creating either ‘don’t worry, we will worry for you’ or ‘we help you to get back to your normal life’ which consumers don’t believe in. Healthcare is a high-involvement category and needs deeper insights.

The role of stakeholders like a doctor, pharmacist, dietician or gym instructor is crucial. Word of mouth and social media tend to work well in healthcare advertising which has still not been leveraged to its full potential.

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