10 Healthcare Ad Creative Best Practices Backed by Science

10 Healthcare Ad Creative Best Practices Backed by Science

According to Harvard Business Professor Gerald Zaltman, we make 95% of our buying decisions in the subconscious mind, which can process millions of bits of information and make intuitive decisions quickly, without getting overwhelmed.1 In contrast, our conscious mind only has the bandwidth to handle three or four new pieces of information at a time.2 While this may sound complex, the advertising implication is relatively straightforward: You can increase HCP engagement by tailoring your healthcare ads to appeal to an HCP’s subconscious mind. Follow these 10 healthcare ad creative best practices—all backed by science.

1. Place the Most Important Messages First and Last

When building your creative strategy, ask yourself what you want HCPs to remember. Then, when you have that answer, find a creative way to put that message at the beginning and end of your ads. This works because of the “The Primacy Effect,” which helps us store information about something we saw, in our long-term memory, while placing the information we see last, in our short-term memory. To apply this to your ads, tell, show, and then summarize your healthcare message. This ad structure ensures that your audience not only understands your message, but — more importantly — remembers it.

2. Repeat Your Strongest Message

The more often we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it. Psychologists call this “illusory truth” because even if we have knowledge that tells us something isn’t true, we’ll eventually start to believe it if you hear it enough times. While it’s not good practice to mislead your healthcare audience, repeating the key messages will lead to more engagement. Even subjective terms, such as “best” and “greatest,” can lead to more acceptance when repeated.

All things said, repeat key words and messages. Using distinct, consistent, and often repeated messaging can help HCPs trust you and buy into what you’re selling. You can do this by increasing frequency or by investing in more ad-supported channels.

Encourage Mental Interaction

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that people are more likely to purchase something when the image encourages mental interaction. For example, the study found that right-handed people were more likely to buy a mug if the company positioned the handle on the right side of the ad.

What does this mean for your healthcare ads? Create them in a way that brings your product or service to life. So, for example, if you’re advertising a medical device, show an HCP using it.

4. Leverage the Bandwagon Effect and Social Acceptance

Psychologist Robert Cialdini wrote, “Whether the question is what to do with an empty popcorn box in a movie theater, how fast to drive on a certain stretch of highway, or how to eat the chicken at a dinner party, the actions of those around us will be important in defining the answer.”3 Humans have evolved to find security in being part of a community. In unfamiliar situations, we look to others for cues on how to act. When we see that others are interested, we want to get involved, too. How can you take advantage of this? You can include a list of highly valued brands using your product or service or showcase a compelling testimonial. As Daniel Codella, Senior Content Manager at Wrike, explains in Adweek’s 7 Psychological Triggers, “We sometimes mix up the value of our content marketing efforts by the artifact. We think that it’s just a matter of producing many content pieces, but that’s not where the value is. The value is really in the connections and the conversations that our content can start with people.”4

5. Ignite Curiosity by Leaving Gaps in Knowledge

Curiosity is a powerful motivator, especially when we’re purchasing something. The key to leveraging this and applying it to the creative aspect of your healthcare ads is giving HCPs just enough information that they need. But only enough to get them wanting more.

For example, “Demo the Device That Has Saved 2,000 Lives Already” is superior ad copy than “Demo Our Next Heart Rate Monitor.” Why? Because someone reading the first one will likely want to understand why and how it saved 2,000 lives. And their way to find out is to engage with you.

6. Break Through “Analysis Paralysis”

As an article by The Harvard Business Review outlines, many sales are lost not to competition but inaction on the part of the consumer. In other words, people simply choose to forgo the decision to buy because they don’t feel like acting. This is a result of analysis paralysis.
You can beat analysis paralysis by targeting the part of the brain referred to as the “old brain,” which is responsible for assessing threats.

So, if you can show HCPs that they are in danger, you can motivate them to act and engage with your ad. This could be through urgency, such as a message that shows they won’t reach their goals unless they take action now. It could also show one of their competitors using your product or service.

7. Incorporate Appealing and Clear Aesthetics

Did you know that 58% of your brain is dedicated to processing visuals, whereas you use only 8% of it to process touch, and 3% for hearing?5 This is because people unconsciously make immediate assumptions about something based on its appearance. Therefore, visuals are an extremely powerful way to increase HCP engagement.

You can do this by ensuring that your visuals are professional, attractive, and on-brand. This will appeal to HCPs, communicate your values, and solidify brand awareness. The other part is ensuring that visuals are always consistent, which builds even more trust with your audience.

8. Give Your Audience Labels That Help You

When someone assigns us a “category,” we’ll often change our behaviors to match those expectations. For example, in this study, if someone told a person that they’re more politically active, they were 15% more likely to vote. Likewise, when businesses label their customers as “preferred” customers, they spend more money.

To take advantage of this, you can assign your audience with the characteristics you wish them to embody, such as “forward-thinking” if you’d like them to try something new or attend a conference. Then, you can incorporate these titles into emails or in the headlines of advertisements.

9. If You’re Asking for Action, Provide a Reason

People naturally comply with requests when you give them a reason to do so. When you’re requesting that an HCP does something, giving them a reason will go a long way. An experiment by researchers at the Graduate Center, City University of New York proved this. According to the experiment, when people informed others they were in a rush, they let them cut the line for the Xerox machine 94% of the time. In contrast, those who didn’t give a reason were allowed to cut 64%.6

How you can provide a reason will change depending on the desired action. You can show an example of the kinds of updates your audience would receive if they joined your mailing list or give a list of speakers at the event you are encouraging them to attend. Specifically, using the word “because” to lead into your reason is shown to raise acceptance, even if the cause is nonsensical.

10. Tell Stories to Speak Directly to the Emotional Brain

Science has shown that stories can activate the parts of our brain related to genuine experience. Mirror neurons enable us to connect and empathize with others when we’re told details about them. As the emotional brain is the part of the brain responsible for most of our decision-making, this strategy can be effective at generating HCP engagement.

Prompt your audience to identify with your messaging by using powerful narration, emotionally triggering symbols, and words we can all identify with. As noted by Codella, Nike does this in its “Become Legendary” campaign. We observe other people overcoming obstacles and are, in turn, motivated to do the same.

Stay Consistent to Achieve Results

Our intuitive mind works faster than our logical mind, so it’s imperative that you understand the psychology and neuroscience behind it. Leveraging psychological tactics within your healthcare advertising campaigns can remove obstacles and compel HCPs to act.

However, these tactics will only be effective if you’re able to carry them consistently across your entire healthcare advertising strategy. In addition, carefully tracking the success of your campaigns that use psychological triggers help you determine which methods work best for your company and audience. You can then optimize further using the tactics that work best for your audience.


  1. Harris M. When to Sell with Facts and Figures, and When to Appeal to Emotions. Harvard Business Review. Published January 26, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  2. Cowan N. The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. National Library of Medicine. Published February 2001. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  3. Cialdini R. Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion. Goodreads. Published December 26, 2006. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  4. Codella D. 7 Psychological Triggers Every Marketer Should Master. Wrike. Published February 6, 2019. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  5. Grady D. The Vision Thing: Mainly In The Brain. Discover. Published June 1, 1993. Accessed June 11, 2021.
  6. Feinberg C. The Mindfulness Chronicles. Harvard Magazine. Published 2010. Accessed June 11, 2021.

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