Why Healthcare Brands Need to “Show, Not Tell” 

Posted by Liz Puzio from Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide — North America on August 11, 2017

Science says our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. No wonder gifs, emojis and video are taking over social media newsfeeds and smartphones. Of course, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. (Remember the hieroglyphics you learned about in grade school?)

Language is not only spoken and written but also visual. Research from Google indicates that YouTube reaches more adults every month in the 35 to 64 age range than any other health site. Patients and physicians both report turning to YouTube for education and support: 1 in 3 physicians are likely to share an educational online video with a patient, and 1 in 2 patients who feel isolated or misunderstood want to hear another patient’s story on video. 

A number of health and wellness brands, including Tylenol and Pampers, have tuned in to the potential of video and maintain active channels. Instructional videos are tremendously popular, with searches for “how to” projected to grow 70% between 2014 and 2025, according to Google. Tylenol’s YouTube channel features a series of exercise videos for arthritis sufferers, and Pampers provides plenty of tips for new parents. 

Watching someone else make an omelette or braid their hair is somehow oddly riveting and strangely soothing. Just ask any beauty product junkie or DIY home improvement fanatic. Science shows this is due to a group of brain cells known as the action observation network. This network literally wakes up the cells in your body that you would actually use when performing a specific task. 

"In February, YouTube announced that a billion hours of video content are consumed on the site daily"

Video combines all the elements of language, and YouTube delivers that to a highly engaged worldwide audience of information seekers. In February, YouTube announced that a billion hours of video content are consumed on the site daily, a sum equal to 100,000 years of viewing time. Firsthand reviews and real-life experiences, from people like you and me, on just about every topic you can imagine are another major segment of videos. Quite a number of health vloggers with serious or chronic illnesses (like Noé Pérez and The Frey Life) have gained a following by sharing what they are learning in their journeys as patients. Study researchers have taken notice too and are examining the ways in which these health vloggers impact, and are impacted by, their viewers.

Rachel Star Withers, a young woman with schizophrenia who posts YouTube videos about her illness, is one of the vloggers making an impact. Withers is particularly adept when it comes to explaining symptoms like hallucinations in ways that resonate with viewers and help them manage their own symptoms. It’s her own special form of “Show, don’t tell,” that old-school writer’s adage of helping the reader experience a story by using words that evoke clear images and strong emotions.

One of the people interviewed in a recent NPR profile of Withers says that by watching her videos, “It showed me I wasn’t alone.” What could be more powerful for a consumer struggling to understand their illness? In fact, the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK found that YouTube was the only major social network to have a positive impact in a survey of 1,500 young adults. So why aren’t healthcare and pharma doing more to reach consumers through a medium made for learning? It’s a huge opportunity for brands and consumers alike.