Pharma advertising leapfrogged the norm during the pandemic­­—and creativity is flourishing, exec says

What happened to pharma creativity during the pandemic? It got better, says Klick Health Chief Creative Officer Rich Levy.

Take TV and video advertising, for instance. Animation, stop-motion, and computer-generated imagery flourished when in-person ad shoots essentially stopped, compelling pharma marketers and their agencies to get more inventive.

“The pandemic has allowed us to think in new and different ways—and it’s been really exciting,” Levy said, adding, “I don’t think we’ve missed a beat at all.”

Levy would know. He’s not only a veteran pharma creative director—almost 10 years as creative chief at FCB Health plus stints at GSW and Ogilvy Health—but also a seasoned consumer creative lead. He wrote the famous “Can you hear me now?” Verizon ad slogan during his time at Bozell Advertising in the early 2000s but also ran consumer creative teams at Dentsu and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Now celebrating his two-year anniversary at Klick—more than half of which has been during the pandemic—Levy talked about the disparate halves of his tenure in the ad world.

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Just as he was settling into the chief creative role at the smaller, independent Klick, the pandemic began, instantly changing day-to-day agency and creative department functions. His staff went remote and digital, but in the end, pulled closer together as they now go virtually into one another's homes—with dogs and kids and hobbies on display—every day.

Industry work in general "seems to have a lot more heart to it, it seems emotionally charged. It comes from a place of deeper understanding and deeper insight," he said.

“It’s part of the way people are feeling now, and that includes our clients who’ve been in the same amount of lockdown and who are working from home. They have small children that they’re dealing with, parents that they’re worried about and friends who they haven’t seen in a year,” Levy said. "It makes all of us perhaps a little more introspective and more empathetic—specifically of people who are suffering from serious diseases.”

One proof point that Klick's own creativity and production is in high gear? Klick will launch more DTC campaigns in the coming year than it has in the combined history of the agency, Levy said.

Coming soon, in fact, is a campaign that “benefited” from the pandemic. While Levy was mum on specifics, the soon-to-be-launched work for a children’s health issue tackles a long-standing diagnostic problem.

“It’s so different from anything we’ve done and part of that is because of the pandemic,” he said. “We couldn’t use the usual tools, so we found a different way to solve a problem that’s been there for over a hundred years.”

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Another mainstay of Levy’s long career has been encouraging the next generation of creatives. He’s been an adjunct professor and mentor to many young people, as well as a proponent of drawing them to healthcare advertising in which there are few, if any, formal college courses.

To that end, Klick is welcoming 60 paid interns next week, with half of them joining the creative and production teams as writers, art directors, broadcast production editors, designers and branding interns.

“Finding these students, teaching them how exciting this industry is and giving them a strong foundation is something we’re committed to, and this year we’re doing it in a big way,” he said.

Levy added, “We had a virtual coffee chat last night, and this morning they’re all hitting me up on LinkedIn and Slack-ing with me and they’re just super-excited as I am too.”