How a healthcare marketer found himself at the biggest awards show of all
By Peter Kenney, Founder and Partner at DiD
Healthcare agencies are always looking for newer, better ways to help their clients amass the eyeballs and loyalty of target demographics. Today we talk mostly about high-tech strategies involving data analytics and the multiplicity of digital platforms available—getting the right messages before the right people with exacting precision. But all of that expertise is pointless without compelling creative that grabs the audience from the first few seconds of exposure. This is still the secret sauce that makes certain campaigns rise above the rest.
The shorthand we often use to describe this creative genius is “storytelling”— something akin to what attracts TV and movie audiences to hits. No one understands this better than Peter Kenney, co-founder of DiD. Not only has he helped create winning campaigns for DiD’s clients, but his love of a good story has led him in other directions as well. Here’s his story about how a healthcare marketer wound up at the Academy Awards ceremony this year.—Ed.
When Rick Sannem and I formed DiD, one of our goals was to use marketing as a way to tell stories that would reach and inspire people to take steps towards better health.
Along the way, a former film school classmate, Kahane Cooper-man, told me about a movie she was making. The subject matter was intriguing: a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor hears about a music school in Manhattan in need of instruments, and decides to donate his 70-year-old violin, rescued from the horrors of WWII. But it’s the connection between Joe and Brianna, the girl who received his violin, that makes the story so heartbreaking. I jumped in as Executive Producer. The film, titled Joe’s Violin, went on to win six Audience Awards and two Grand Prizes at numerous film festivals, an Oscar nomination for best short documentary, and accolades across the media spectrum.
So, what’s the connection between what we do at DiD and my passion for helping get Joe’s Violin made?
Storytelling is an overused term. Simple product pitches are said to be stories. But to truly work as a story it has to connect on a deep level with people. This deeper connection is what gets someone to talk to their doctor, to change a behavior, to follow through on purchasing and taking a medicine. The secret to generating this connection is empathy. You need empathy both in developing your story and in presenting it to your audience. In Joe’s Violin, Brianna’s enormous empathy for Joe’s experience is really what makes it unique and touches a chord with audiences.
At DiD, we create the full range of video from scientific MOA animations to 30-seconds TV spots. Our best efforts, however, are when our stories reach you emotionally. We see this in patient and consumer as well as professional-facing video work.
For a surgical client, we actually created a series of videos documenting one person’s journey through the process of bariatric surgery. We created it because research told us that, besides cost, the biggest thing that kept eligible patients from following through on surgery was anxiety about being able to succeed.
After someone learns that they qualify for weight-loss surgery, there is sometime an extended process (up to six months) where the patient loses weight, adjusts their diet and learns about the details of the actual procedure. Throughout this pathway qualified patients are known to drop out and not follow through with what could be life-saving surgery. With this client, we decided to create a series that would address the emotional barrier patients would have in each phase of this pre-surgery journey. Dana’s Story was a five-episode documentary series that followed this young woman to appointments, through exercise classes, telling her friends and family of her decision, organizing the finances, etc. Ultimately, she did have successful surgery and we captured the excitement and exuberance of her new self.
The Landscape Architect
The campaign was created as a non-branded way for bariatric centers to connect with and motivate potential patients. Initially each episode was delivered via email to patients at each stage of their process.
Empathy was also critical in a developing a successful TV spot for a natural eye drop. The client, Similasan, had been communicating the features and benefits of their naturopathic eye drop. Here the focus was on its origins in Switzerland and the freshness of the mountains. From research conducted with a previous client we realized that our opportunity was with a more customer-centric, empathic approach.
We had previously done ethnography research to determine how eye care products are used in household and discovered that eye drops were purchased when they were in greatest demand and to meet their greatest challenge. Efficacy was essential. “Natural” ingredients just meant you can take them more frequently.
This spot told story of a landscape architect with allergies who needs the most efficacious eye drop to keep working. The natural, preservative-free aspect came through because of how frequently they used it. Because of our deeper customer research, we were able to deliver a spot that increased year-over-year same store sales by 25% over previous spots. This effect lasted through the seasonal run of the spot.
We were able to deliver a spot that increased year-over-year same-store sales by 25% over previous spots.
Today doctors often work by algorithms. Not fully appreciating the people sitting in their clinic, hospital ward or OR. For an Rx client with a product that improves quality of life for end-stage liver disease, we are currently putting the “care” back in “healthcare.” Generating empathy is one of our prime objectives. Quality of life (QOL), of course, is a highly emotional issue. In the end stages of certain diseases, it becomes all that patients and caretakers can focus on. For one client we have begun to make a series of short videos helping physicians along the treatment pathway to better appreciate the importance of quality of life to patients and their caregivers in the end stage of their disease and better value their Rx decisions. Here, empathy is not just an aspect of creative development but the communication objective itself.
Storytelling—that is, awakening doctors to the inner lives of patients through powerful marketing—is an effective way of engendering this kind of empathy and a more refined approach to treatment.
Like Joe’s Violin, storytelling is about bringing people closer to each other’s world, improving understanding. In theory, doctors and patients are more in synch than a Holocaust survivor and a young inner city violinist would be, but sometimes it takes a story to evoke the humanity in their relationship. That’s what we try to do every day. •
Peter Kenney is an advertising executive, producer and a founding partner at DiD, a health and wellness agency that counts Tylenol, Bausch & Lomb, Salix, Ethicon and Hologic among its clients. In business for over a dozen years, DiD now has 120 employees at three offices, in Ambler, PA, Center City, Philadelphia and Healdsburg, CA. Prior to starting DiD, Peter was a writer and creative director in healthcare advertising at Medical Broadcasting Company, in Philadelphia, and worked in documentary television and interactive media in Los Angeles, where he was a founding partner of Digital Ranch, a TV production company. He has served on the Board of Trustees for The Philadelphia School.
DiD is a professional and consumer advertising agency committed to helping people discover and experience great health and wellness brands. It focuses on building connections that drive results for its clients and their customers, with tenacity, precision, and grace. DiD delights through service; work with passion, courage, and mutual respect; and is agile in thinking and action. Its people are authentic and humble; hunger for personal excellence and improvement; and never forget the people their brands help.