McCann’s Matt Eastwood on smashing pharma conventions

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 31 January 2019
Matt Eastwood

Consumer-facing brands and FMCG giants were once the biggest ad spenders in the world, but in recent years they’ve had their marketing budgets slashed. Meanwhile, health and wellness brands have been growing exponentially and are now ready to harness creativity to take them further, said McCann Health’s new global chief creative officer Matt Eastwood.

Eastwood, an Aussie expat, is the first global creative chief to move directly from a traditional, consumer-focused ad agency, J Walter Thompson, to a pharma and healthcare agency. 

The move signals a wider shift in the sector with brands in the pharma and healthcare sector hiring more marketing executives to drive their own digital transformation. 

“The definition of health is really broadening out,” Eastwood told AdNews.

“Brands are moving into that space that weren't there before. It’s really a growing field of opportunity, whereas I think traditional FMCG is probably shrinking.”

The US alone holds more than 45% of the global pharmaceutical market according to In 2016, this share was valued around US$446 billion.

According to research and consulting firm GlobalData, Australia’s pharmaceutical market is set to rise from just over $22.85 billion in 2016 to $25.2 billion by 2020.

Eastwood started his career at DDB Sydney, holding various roles at Australian agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi before heading overseas. He became the chief creative officer of DDB New York before being poached by JWT to become the global chief creative officer, before exiting in 2018.

At JWT Eastwood oversaw highly-awarded health and wellness work, including a campaign for "The Fin," a prosthetic leg created by Northwell Health that allowed a disabled veteran to move both on land and in the water.

It also become the first agency to collaborate with the Black Lives Matters movement in a powerful ad campaign that created a twist on Facebook’s “Safety Check” feature.

Eastwood said it’s the learnings from these mainstream campaigns he now brings to the pharma and health category as they begin to realise the potential of brand building.

He said there’s a huge opportunity for these brands to break out of category conventions, such as drug ads in the US that read the long-list of side effects at the end of a 90-second TV ad.

McCann Health won a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions in 2018 for Immunity Charm for the Ministry of Health in Afghanistan. The campaign aimed to help mums in the region keep track of their children’s by providing them with a charm bracelet that leverages the existing tradition of talismanic bracelets meant to keep evil spirits away.

Eastwood said this campaign was a “wake up” moment for the industry and highlighted the burgeoning creativity in the health sector.

“Brands in this sector are recognising that in the evolving space of health, they are very much as big as any global brand now. I think they're recognising the value of brand awareness and brand saliency,” he said.

“The big shift that's happening in those companies is that they are becoming almost like consumer brands. A new blockbuster drug is so profound these days and can really change the world.”

McCann Health, which has a relatively small presence in Australia even after merging with healthcare agency Ward6 last year, is currently working on a global platform that will help people understand how to deal with Dengue fever.

Eastwood argued that the project needs just as much creativity in the way it speaks to consumers as it does doctors, health works and governments, which is where the challenge lies for the agency.

“We are doing global work for disease prevention and much more," he explains.

"It’s also no longer about just doing work to sell pharmaceutical drugs, which is certainly part of it, but it's not all of it.”

Wunderman Thompson, what?

Eastwood led the JWT network to win a record 80 Cannes Lions in 2016 and remained there until early 2018, when his role was axed as part of a "structural decision."

A year later and the JWT brand no longer exists, having been merged globally with Wunderman to become Wunderman Thompson. The shift was part of a series of moves spearheaded by WPP global CEO Mark Read.

Eastwood said he was saddened to see the legacy of JWT disappear with the name carrying clout around the world.

“You could talk to a cab driver and mention J Walter Thompson and they’d know exactly who that was,” he said.

“I was disappointed to see the name go after 154 years because I think brands mean something and it takes a long time to build that kind of equity, but I was also excited about what I think they might be able to offer.”

“I've still got a lot of very close friends creatively running offices with JWT and I'd love to see them continue to succeed.”

The Work

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