News & Views

Opinion / Human-Centered Healthcare

by Contagious Contributor

Anna Soisalo, director of strategy at Smart Design London, shares lessons learned for targeting millennials while researching and devising a campaign for the US National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies



Devising communications about birth control solutions might seem like an odd place to learn about how best to engage millennials. However, while working on a campaign with The National Campaign, Smart Design learned a great deal that would apply to this elusive group. Through the research and focus groups we found that moving away from fear-based marketing to empowering consumers, coming up with personalised solutions and sharing experience is vital in helping your message to spread and have an impact with this group. Here’s how we went about meeting that challenge.

Birth control solutions for women include highly effective methods of prevention, supported by a ton of information easily available online and via social media and yet in the US almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Two reliable and longer-term birth control options – the Implant and the IUD, report record low levels of usage among women under 30, a problem that The National Campaign was grappling with.

If the Implant and IUD were FMCG products, re-positioning them as brands and reinforcing the positives would be a clear solution. By contrast, healthcare marketing seems to focus on scare stories with the emphasis often more on fear than on empowering consumers to make the right choices for them.

In order to get a better idea of why women under 30 were rejecting longer term birth control options, we joined forces with The National Campaign to carry out birth control research among Millennial women in the US.

We quickly learned that there was a gap between current healthcare medical marketing messages and what this group was interested in. One big difference in our approach is that rather than making it a medical conversation, we used design methodologies in order to understand what these women really wanted from their birth control. So, for example, instead of running a focus group discussing the medical side effects of various birth control options, we asked the women we were talking to imagine they were writing a break up letter with their current birth control choice – what would they say and how would they feel?

Using this people-centred approach, the research we completed for the Whoops Proof Birth Control project identified five key insights which we think are relevant to healthcare campaigns beyond birth control.

1. Cautionary tales don’t engage consumers

Thanks to increased access to medical information via the internet, millennials are well aware of the risks associated with certain behaviours – for example of not using birth control. Our research revealed that negative campaigns featuring generalised warnings such as ‘giving birth is like torture,’ were a turn-off for this group.



2. Side effects are more important than effectiveness

Our discussions with millennial women showed that healthcare campaigns which solely highlight the effectiveness of particular options are likely to have less traction with millennials who see effectiveness of birth control as a given. Upfront, factual messages about the benefits and potential side effects of both options are more likely to get this group engaging with the conversation. The effectiveness is assumed, it’s the impact on individual women that is important.



3. Personalise the message

Healthcare campaigns should be rooted in the words, experiences, views, feelings and aspirations of the groups they are targeting. For example, the Whoops Proof Birth Control project found that conversations about birth control options should embrace the fact that many young women in the campaign’s target market want children at some point in the future. Successful campaigns should acknowledge women’s pregnancy aspirations and underline the safety of IUDs and implants for future fertility, rather than pitching the conversation as birth control versus pregnancy.


4. Other people’s experiences matter

Healthcare campaigns should aim to include real life experiences and information from consumers who are already using the healthcare options on offer. Millennials want to balance ‘top down’ information and advice from professionals with real-life advice from their peers. Similarly, campaigns need to use the same down to earth language as the groups they are targeting. While it’s important not to come across as ‘vicar in trainers,’ phrases we use in the project such as ‘his ninja sperm can’t touch this!’ came from talking to our target group of women and personalising it to them.
Similarly, it’s worth remembering that medical terms can be confusing and alienating. Our research discovered that millennial women often muddle IUDs and implants because of their odd names and their sci-fi overtones.



5. Shift messages away from fear towards empowerment

Overall our research for the project showed that too much advertising around birth control options were fear-based, focussed on avoiding the ‘negative’ outcome of pregnancy with messages such as ‘no way are we getting pregnant’.

Based on these findings, together with The National Campaign we created a Whoops Proof Birth Control campaign toolkit including a series of digital and printed ads, tools for healthcare workers, surveys for consumers to send to friends and more – all linking to a website that communicates the benefits of IUDs and the Implant to millennial women on their terms. The toolkit approach aims to help those activating the campaign to fit it within their needs, budgets and context. Our goal was activation, regardless of budget.

The campaign is available to public health organisations, complete with a communications guide on how to initiate more relevant birth control discussions with millennial women. Currently in pilot phase, the campaign has already triggered thousands of millennials to seek out alternative birth control methods for the first time, whilst educating healthcare workers to discuss young women’s needs in ways that feel authentic and relevant. And pre and post campaign research shows respondents more likely to be familiar with, or considering using these methods of birth control.