Dr Matthew Cullen is managing director at Tonic Health Media.
If you want to get an idea of just how concerned Australians have become about their health in recent months, then look no further than the latest findings from clinical and pharmacy research business IQVIA.
It shows that overall sales in pharmacies were up 25% between January 25 and February 29 compared to the same period last year. Hand sanitiser producers would be, if you’ll indulge me, rubbing their hands together after an eye-watering sales spike of 546%.
Recent headlines may have been focused on a loo roll apocalypse, but at your local pharmacy the items dancing off the shelves were those that keep hands and households germ-free. These buying statistics clearly speak of an opportunity for brands focusing on the health sector.
The rush on pharmacies over the last few months has also translated to doctors’ offices. Coronavirus fears saw telehealth consults rise to over one million in March 2020, yet people still physically visited their GP almost as regularly as they did this time last year.
Medicare statistics showed the total number of Australia-wide GP visits in March were only 0.5% lower than the same month in 2019. As COVID-19 awareness grew, GP visits also rose from 9.91 million in February to hit 10.2 million in March 2.
Why has this happened when the advice to people who are ill is to stay at home? Well, firstly, there is the limited nature of telehealth. A large proportion of phone-based consults result in the same outcome: “You’d better pop down to the surgery for a closer look.”
Another factor is trust. With the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a commodity that has never been of higher value in society. As we know, brands spend millions upon millions of dollars on earning it, but it remains elusive for many.
Medical practitioners, by contrast, have always enjoyed a high reputation for trustworthiness in the community. Roy Morgan research from 2017 showed nurses, doctors and pharmacists were the top three most trusted professions in Australia (these figures have remained steady for years either side of this poll too).
Currently this cohort is being relied on to provide calm and considered fact-based advice that reassures people. My co-founder at Tonic Health Media, Dr Norman Swan, has been perhaps Australia’s most high profile exponent here.
What it means for marketers and brands
While many media channels are going to see short term boosts in impressions and sales, consistently high visitation to GPs and pharmacies suggests the Health Out-of-Home space will continue to be a robust environment.
We also have ample evidence that point-of-care environments, such as a GP’s office, are places where people are more receptive to advertising, and are often primed for action.
Australian research from 2019 conducted by Tonic Health Media tells us that two in three respondents don’t mind seeing ads in healthcare businesses, while 51% agree that ads they see in these environments are relevant to them, far higher than in other categories such as TV (31%), online (27%).
We also observed that only one in five people look up their diagnosis after visiting a GP. Clearly patients are overwhelmingly satisfied with their doctor’s judgement, and the element of trust is an important factor when we consider the placement of advertising messaging.
Times are tough for business out there and marketing budgets are under pressure, many like never before. But serving people relevant, visible content in a point-of-care environment remains a low risk strategy. We can expect this to continue to be the case as our way of life slowly reverts back to normal too.
Recently we’ve seen a start to the easing of social distancing restrictions across Australia. We’re now able to visit our favourite restaurants or cafes again (albeit not in droves).
Barring a second wave of infections, there are reasons to be optimistic we will continue to see restrictions ease. Already there are green shoots in the broader outdoor advertising domain as people anticipate returning to public spaces.
This is encouraging news indeed, however I’m convinced our collective health concerns will remain heightened for some time. We’re all learning new behaviours, and I believe a higher consciousness around our wellbeing and increased trust in medical expertise are here to stay.
Australia might be doing well in the battle against coronavirus, but the disease is a long way from disappearing. So if you’re doing business, particularly in the health and wellbeing space, I encourage you to keep this in mind.