Global Grand Jury Spotlight - Sharon Howard-Butler

Sharon started her career as a consumer advertising creative at JWT Sydney. Driven by a passion for ideas and what they can do to build brands and change lives, she moved into health and wellness advertising.

Global Awards | October 08, 2019

Each year, the Global Awards recruits some of the world’s most prominent award-winning industry creatives and thought leaders to serve on the Global Awards Grand Jury. Sharon started her career as a consumer advertising creative at JWT Sydney. Driven by a passion for ideas and what they can do to build brands and change lives, she moved into health and wellness advertising. By applying her consumer sensibility to her work, she become one of the most highly-awarded healthcare advertising creatives in Australia. She gained a reputation for driving best in class work as Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Health Sydney. And for the last four and half years has been doing the same as a Creative Director in New York. First at The Bloc, then at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and now at Area 23. She has had consumer, patient and HCP work, across multiple brands and therapeutic areas, recognized at major award shows including Cannes Lions, Lions Health, The Global Awards, New York Festivals, Clio, Clio Health, Creative Floor, PR Asia and IPA Best of Health. Sharon has also been invited to be a juror at most of these shows. Committed to life enhancing creativity for causes and brands – she loves exploring the possibilities with her teams and getting the right solutions produced. She also loves exploring with her husband and son, close to home and around the world.    

Global Awards: What new trends in healthcare advertising have you seen emerge in the past year?

Sharon Howard-Butler: We’re starting to see impressive purpose-driven work from healthcare agencies for pharmaceutical companies. There’s Breath of life by McCann Health Shanghai for Glaxo Smith Kline. A disease awareness mobile app, it addresses a serious problem - less than 7% of the estimated 100,000,000 people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in China are diagnosed. The app turns a mobile phone into a device that can test lung capacity in a novel way, directing people at risk to see their doctor.

Then there’s the Get Up Alarm Clock by Area 23 New York for Lartruvo from Lilly. The first ever social media clock, it was developed to help people with soft call sarcoma. It wakes these people up by projecting messages of encouragement from friends and family on their ceilings, to help give them the strength to get up and face the day.

There’s been some strong work in the area of accessibility and inclusiveness. Three products for people who are deaf - Story Sign by FCB Inferno London for Huawei, See Sound by Wavio and Area 23 New York, and the Deaf 911 app by Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness New York. Along with a continuing expansion of Dot products, digital devices that connect people who are blind to the online world, with the introduction of Dot Mini by Serviceplan Munich. And brand experiences that change the lives of people with physical disabilities: ThisAbles, 3D printable furniture add-ons, by McCann Tel Aviv for IKEA and Adaptive Player by McCann New York for Microsoft Xbox.

Crafting of work is also being embraced in the pharmaceutical category. Regulations can’t get in the way of finishing work exceptionally well. Over the past year there has been some beautifully executed print, video and digital work. It shows that there is the opportunity to push good work to great by giving it some love and time And virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are becoming sophisticated through artificial intelligence (AI), and increasingly being used for empathy and educational experiences.

Global Awards: How is advertising in the healthcare wellness sphere evolving in order to be millennial-friendly?

Sharon Howard-Butler: Millennials are an important target. Not just because they are now the largest generation alive and the most invested in wellness, but also because they’ll help drive more interesting work, both as consumers and healthcare professionals. They choose brands that have a social conscious. So, there’ll be more opportunities for life- changing creativity that complements the treatments they are prescribed or are prescribing.

The majority are digital natives. They grew up surfing the internet, sending texts and actively engaged in social media. Their mobile phone is an extension of themselves. So, it’s a great way to reach them. They crave experiences. With the introduction of the 5G network, we’ll be able create and deliver high definition VR, AR, extended reality (XR) and mixed reality (MR) immersive experiences to them anytime, anywhere.

Millennial physicians are in favor of using digital technology in their practices too, especially direct mobile engagement, to improve connection with patients and the day-to-day quality of medicine. They are socially savvy. They engage, share and create, so if we connect them to a brand in a meaningful way they can amplify our campaigns.

Global Awards: What creative work on behalf of brands both wellness and/or pharma have you seen recently that are breakthrough in creative and effectiveness?

Sharon Howard-Butler: I’ve already mentioned a few pharmaceutical brands, so for this question I’ll focus on wellness brands. Nike’s Colin Kaepernick video, outdoor, print and social campaign by Wieden & Kennedy Portland is a standout for me. To my knowledge, it wasn’t entered into any healthcare award shows, but it could have been. Colin Kaepernick (ex-NFP player) made a decision to take a stand for something he believes in. This sparked controversy nationwide. Nike’s decision to stand with him by having him front their 30th anniversary Just Do it campaign was polarizing. But it appealed to the majority of their market, particularly millennials, as it aligned with their social values. Because of the polarisation, considerable extra value was generated through earned media, broadcast, print, and online news coverage, and social commentary and sharing. And Nike reaped the returns through an increase in love for and loyalty to their brand, and increased sales and investment. Some might say it’s a social justice campaign not a wellness campaign, but Nike is a wellness brand (fitness) and the message is about self-esteem – believing in something and believing in yourself.

Then there’s Libresse’s Viva la Vulva, an anthem where a feminine protection brand sings the praises of the vagina, by AMV BBDO London. Beautifully executed, it combines animation, exquisite art direction and visual metaphors of the vulva to the original version of the song Take Yo Praise, celebrating women’s genitals no matter what form they take. Brave, fun and memorable, it’s breakthrough in its attitude, content and its social sway, particularly when you compare it to the advertising for feminine protection products that came before it. Viva la Vulva has generated considerable buzz. It’s being widely seen and discussed, and is sure to both help women, by making them feel more comfortable about their bodies, and also build on the success of this brand.

Global Awards: There seems to be varying opinions about the nature of the content awarded top honors at healthcare award shows 5-10 years ago, and what tends to win in today’s competitions. There are some people that believe the bar is being raised, and there are some in the industry that believe the every-day work is getting outshone by causes. What are your thoughts?

Sharon Howard-Butler: While work for causes is important, I feel we should also be doing more giving back work for our clients and their brands through purpose-driven work. This has the potential to add value beyond the prescribed medication to improve lives, and help improve the public perception of pharmaceutical companies. 

I also welcome consumer agencies entering healthcare award shows, as it helps to raise the creative bar and to raise the profile and credibility of our shows, so that we can attract and retain talent. I know there are people in the industry who complain that healthcare agencies are missing out and that our every-day work isn’t getting recognized. But it’s up to us to change that. We need to make our every-day work extraordinary. Langland and McCann Health have done consistently well in award shows over many years, through great work. And Area 23 has risen to the challenge over the last few years introducing their What If initiative. They have done some brilliant work for causes and are now applying their What If thinking to brand work. What’s more, they’re taking on consumer agencies in consumer award shows, and winning there too. This is what we should all be aiming for. That said, having a distinct wellness category and pharmaceutical category does make sense. On top of that The Global Awards has therapeutic sub-categories and sub-categories for disease awareness and causes so it couldn’t be fairer really. No reason to complain. We just need to lift our game.