Skip to content
health and wellness marketing
Learn With Us > AdLibbing Articles > Good in Action

Keeping People at the Center of Health Communications

As an insights-led consultancy, the magnetic collective has helped the Ad Council reach audiences on public health issues ranging from breast cancer risk education to teen suicide prevention With any work focused on changing mindsets and behaviors, we always start by immersing ourselves in people’s point of view on the topic, and observing the way it plays out in the full context of their daily lives.

Across our many conversations, we are seeing profound shifts in the way people are thinking about and acting upon health and wellness (H&W). On the one hand this is an exciting time, with medicine becoming more personalized, information becoming more democratized, and people looking at H&W through a more holistic, interconnected lens.

But our research also turns up some frustrations, confusion, and unmet needs. Today we’ll highlight three themes with distinct implications for organizations, brands and causes trying to motivate and connect with people in relation to H&W.

1. Health and wellness can be a lonely place

“I feel like I’m my own health advocate. Doctors can only do so much. The responsibility for taking care of yourself is on you; losing weight, paying attention to your health - that’s all on you.” - Jason, 34, U.S.

Despite this empowering and expansive moment – many describe feelings of isolation as they attempt to navigate their H&W. As part of a recent study, we asked people to map all their H&W influencers into concentric circles of trust. Interestingly, most put themselves ALONE at the center. Doctors are often in the mid-tier trust circles. Pharma companies and health insurance providers typically don’t even make the circles – with more trust accorded to food and tech companies.


“Sometimes I just have to ask myself, are doctors willing to talk to you like a person or do they just see you as a collection of problems” - Mike, 53, US

So why do we feel so isolated when it comes to H&W? One big driver is the need for more conversations that take into account the whole person rather than focusing myopically on their health challenges. Moreover, the stigmas that persist for so many health topics pose barriers to meaningfully connecting with others. This all translates into an empathy deficit surrounding H&W.

Takeaway: Help people feel less isolated in navigating H&W by…

  • Leading with empathy for your target.
  • Reflecting their multidimensional lives, not just their condition or constraints.
  • Show that you’re willing to get uncomfortable, accept criticism, and tackle taboos.
  • Fostering contexts and channels that can offer a sense of support and camaraderie.

2. Balance is the new control

Wellness That Works For Every Body

Weight Watchers rebranding to WW (wellness that works) illustrates a brand shifting emphasis from the "control" mindset of dieting to the "balance" mindset of wellness.

“Despite living with severe arthritis, I definitely do everything in moderation. I need to find a balance where I’m still enjoying things.” - Susan 34

Our next theme relates to the promise – and pressure – of being “in-control.” So much H&W messaging emphasizes “empowering people” and “putting them in the driver’s seat.” Of course these goals are important, but what strikes us in our conversations lately is energy around the idea of BALANCE.

This balance refers to the “control that matters to me” coupled with the “permission to be less rigid.” By personalizing it you’re not trying to adhere to someone else’s abstract standard, and by finding room for flexibility, you’re not set up for failure.

We’re not just seeking empathy from others, but also from ourselves. “Balance” shifts the emphasis from self-monitoring to self-acceptance and self-care–which is a very hot topic for people at the moment.

Takeaway: Tap into the desire for balanced H&W approaches by…

  • Offering multiple options to reach a goal.
  • Helping people navigate their conflicting H&W needs and desires.
  • Cultivating greater self-empathy and -acceptance.
  • Encouraging the “marathon, not a sprint” mindset, focused on long-term sustainability.

3. Big Power of Small & Easy

Take the Prediabetes Risk Test | Type 2 Diabetes Prevention | Ad Council

The Do I Have Prediabetes campaign we collaborated on with Ad Council builds "small and easy" into the spot, with a simple and impossible-to-ignore set of questions that automatically flags your risk by the end of the ad.

“There are so many things you have to do, exercise, eat healthy, lose weight, take your pills, can you tell me just one thing that I can do?” – Whitney, 42

We’re in a favorable climate for promoting new approaches to behavior change. Medicine, media and marketers are embracing the behavioral economics notion of identifying small “nudges,” focused on bite-sized actions. The rise of smart devices, wearables, and apps are giving people easier ways to motivate and monitor their behaviors.

As pressures to take on this huge area of H&W grow, people are actively seeking out the small changes they can make without too much pain or compromise. It’s incredibly gratifying when it works, and people often go into evangelist mode when they see positive results.

Takeaway: Support this desire for small, easy steps by…

  • Aiming to motivate a single action rather than a massive lifestyle change.
  • Simplifying information to focus on one important thing.
  • Building in repeatable elements that can be replicated automatically.
  • Linking desired changes with existing habits and routines.
  • Leveraging and amplifying the optimism that comes from small wins.

These three themes all point to the ongoing need for campaigns rooted in a more empathetic understanding of our target’s lives and motivations. Yes, people are intrigued by innovation and change, but “progress” can bring its own pressures. The fundamental human desires to be seen, heard and reflected are timeless. Thoughtful research will illuminate how these core aspirations play out in specific health and wellness contexts, ultimately guiding communications that truly resonates.


Want to stay up to date on industry news, insights, and all our latest work? Subscribe to our email newsletters!