Hearts and Minds… but Mostly Hearts


The art of engaging consumers where they respond most.

By Andy McAfee, Creative Director,
AbelsonTaylor and Kristin Glunz, Account
Director, AbelsonTaylor


Remember the commercials that recently appeared during the Super Bowl game or the Oscars? They were great examples of what’s increasingly happening with ads —all stories and emotion. No product features, no reasons to believe, and minimal branding. And, whether you liked the ads or not, you probably engaged with them. That’s the power of engagement in advertising.

The use of emotion in advertising is nothing new. It’s effective because it appeals directly to a consumer’s emotional state, needs, and aspirations. Before social media took over the Internet, we applied emotions to ads sparingly (usually at the end of a spot — the proverbial “emotional end benefit”) because many in our industry believed more functional ads worked best, especially in the regulated environment that we live in. In the direct-to-consumer pharma space, some even fear that the use of powerful emotions in direct-to-consumer commercials could lead to FDA reaction, which has led to the commercials that we’re used to today. Sameness with little emotion.

Then social media exploded and people were consumed with the desire to post, share, like, and comment on commercials and videos they’ve just experienced or content they’ve just read. We’ve discovered the power of engagement. The greater the involvement, interaction, and intimacy an individual has with a brand, the stronger the loyalty. It seemed like overnight these tug-at-the-heartstrings or laugh-our-a**-off ads were everywhere. But can they work in healthcare?

We’ve discovered the power of engagement

Healthcare marketers brave enough to consider the power of emotion in advertising began testing the waters in their TV commercials, with over-the-counter health and wellness products leading the way. They applied the power of humor, sentimental feelings and even frustration to their commercials. The results were ads that captured attention, which led to greater engagement. Time will soon tell if the use of powerful emotions can also help build market share for healthcare brands. The following are some of the commercials that we absolutely love because they combine emotion and engagement.

Ads that make you laugh

Humor can be an easy solution to engagement. But humor is also very personal. What’s funny to one individual can be uninteresting or even irritating to another. Importantly, humor is memorable and is more likely to be shared—regardless of whether people liked it or not.

Neutrogena used humor to warn men not to wash their face and “junk” with the same soap. The ad suggests its own Men’s Face Wash is the solution to the problem of “junkface.” Whether this problem actually exists or not doesn’t matter. What the ad does is appeal to millennial men with a self-enhancing sense of humor. Sure, they could have focused on the uniqueness of the product in the commercial or how well it leaves the skin feeling fresh. But they chose to take a risk. Since “Junkface” was introduced in Canada seven months ago, more than 900,000 viewers have watched it on YouTube.Pc0450200


Ads that touch the heart

Warm and fuzzy commercials touch our souls. Instead of making us laugh, they can make us cry happy tears. Instead of lecturing us, they can show us. Sentimental feelings drive engagement. The approach had its beginnings in public service announcements and slowly made its way to general advertising. These types of ads almost never mention their products. They’re meant to just make us feel good. The result? Consumers that become brand advocates.

The makers of Always sanitary pads chose to focus on empowerment of young women in their commercial, “#Like a Girl.” The ad is meant to raise the question to society of what we (adults and boys most specifically) think about gender stereotypes. Not only did it help raise the question, but it also changed behavior. Procter & Gamble’s market research showed that 76% of girls who saw the video no longer saw the phrase “like a girl” as an insult, and two out of three men said they plan to think twice before using the phrase as an insult. YouTube reinforces the change with more than 54 million views worldwide, with shares of the video reaching upward of 30 million.Pc0450300


Ads that can drive behavior change quickly will rise to the top

When Johnson & Johnson decided to help raise awareness about the nursing shortage, they approached the problem by emphasizing the benefit. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future was a series of ads that actually began several years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that J&J turned to their agency and encouraged them to create a different ad—one that would truly inspire youths to take up the profession. The “Name Game” spot was born. It featured a real life nurse and a child actor (since actual patients can’t be used) and the very real example of what pediatric nurses do to ease patient anxiety. It was heartwarming. It was powerful. And the reaction was immediate. In the month since it was posted on YouTube, the video has received nearly 50,000 views and hundreds of votes.Pc0450100


Ads that show our frustrations

Frustration is something we feel practically every day. And it’s powerful because consumers can quickly relate to the emotion. It can drive them to change brands or try a new way of doing things just to avoid feeling frustrated again. Two great commercials come to mind. The makers of Nicoderm, the patch helping smokers to wean themselves off of cigarettes, used exaggerated humor to show how people often feel when they decide to stop smoking. The brand team turned to actress Anne Silk, who has built a strong fan base for her role in “Lost Girl.” While the ad was first created nearly five years ago—before likes, posts, and sharing were the rage—it still resonates with many today. “Crazy Flight Attendant” has been viewed more than 135,000 times on YouTube and spoofed on late-night talk shows. UltraShape’s “The Tummy Without the Torture” ad approaches frustrations subtly to express how consumers feel when they can’t achieve their ideal body shape. Under the guise of a mock PSA, the commercial begins seriously and builds up to the insight and the problem — unwanted fat in the wrong places, resistant to even the most strenuous exercise regimens. The solution is a new fat reduction procedure without the pain, wait, and frustration. It’s a great way to deliver a complex message quickly. The ad recently launched and will be posted on several sites, including YouTube. But it’s clear that “The Tummy Without the Torture” will appeal to the emotions of those who’ve tried endlessly to improve their shape.Pc0460300


Rise and take notice

The explosion of social media has changed how agencies today approach advertising. While we’ve known for years that connecting consumers emotionally to products is effective, we now also understand that these connections lead to near immediate engagement. And this is especially important because consumers now engage in multiple channels and are constantly exposed to various messages. Ads that can drive behavior change quickly will rise to the top. Healthcare is not immune to the trend, although our pace for change may be slower. But it will happen. And those of us who are ready will also rise to the top.


Andy McAfee is a creative director for AbelsonTaylor and leads several of the consumer and DTC campaigns the agency manages. Having launched five brands in the consumer space, McAfee has an innate understanding of DTC. He has worked on Zimmer Gender Solutions Knee, AndroGel, Ensure, PediaSure, and Similac, among others. He led the creation of the Enbrel DTC campaign featuring pro-golfer Phil Mickelson. Prior to AbelsonTaylor, McAfee worked for Leo Burnett as vice president, associate creative director for more than a decade, working on brands including Kraft, McDonald’s, Maytag and 7-Up. With more than 25 years’ experience in advertising, McAfee has won multiple creative awards, including Effies, CLIOs, New York Festivals, DTC National, Rx Club, Global, and In-Awe.  


Kristin Glunz has built a reputation as an innovative strategist and brand leader. She leads a team that has managed the Similac and PediaSure accounts, and has helped launch some of the most successful brand campaigns in the client’s history. Today she is a key lead in the agency’s expansion into the consumer health and wellness space. Prior to joining AbelsonTaylor in 2009, Glunz worked at Element 79, managing brands for Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, and Sara Lee, and at Arroweye Solutions, Leo Burnett and Grant Jacoby.