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Giving up: what healthcare brands can learn from quitting

Client Partnership Director Isabelle Geoghegan takes us through the unique considerations of HCPs and patients, and explores how Stoptober leads with positivity, encouragement, and community – all backed by scientific research.

Isabelle Geoghegan

Author: Isabelle Geoghegan

Client Partnership Director

Date posted: 28/10/2021

Let’s start from the beginning: at school.

Picture this: a child has a favourite subject, works hard and is right on the cusp of an A. But their teacher decides to ‘encourage’ them by grading their school report with a D. That way, the pupil works extra hard to get that A.

Did it work? Or did it cause confusion, disappointment and a lack of motivation to keep trying?

But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending. Another teacher steps in, awards a B+ and offers to provide extra tuition. The child successfully lands the A. And why? Because a little positive encouragement – and recognition – goes a very long way. And the first teacher? As well-meaning as they were, they will only be remembered as someone who didn’t believe in the child.

Now, we as people know this is how to get the best out of us. We know collaborating with, engaging with, and encouraging others is how goals are reached. And that’s why the Department of Health’s Stoptober campaign successfully changed the way people approach quitting smoking.

Since 2012, smokers have been encouraged to stop smoking for 28 days – the number of days that will give you the best chance of quitting smoking for good. In contrast to traditional cessation campaigns, which typically lead with shock or fear tactics, Stoptober leads with positivity, encouragement, and community – all backed by scientific research. A winning recipe, especially for healthcare brands.

Ten years in, and the statistics speak for themselves. Loudly. The proportion of current smokers in the UK has fallen dramatically, with the most significant numbers being in the 18–24-year-old age group. A 2019 study reported that 16% of this group smoked – down from 25.7% in 2011. Public Health England (PHE) have since claimed: “one million smokers have quit since the start of the pandemic and there is an increase in public narrative and conversation around personal health.”

PHE release a fresh campaign every year, and each year brands can leverage that campaign’s momentum. Stopping smoking is a unique challenge, and healthcare professionals know they are contending with more than a physiological or habitual issue. People smoke to relieve stress during hard times, and to socialise in good times. How can healthcare brands find the sweet spot to target smokers when they decide that today’s the day?

“Behind brand success sits a deep understanding of the challenges faced by HCPs, and what motivates their patients. During our work with Pfizer’s Champix, we focused in on the patients with the most critical need to quit. We identified their motivations (physical and emotional) and then dug down into the HCPs’ biggest challenge: a lack of time.

This insight led to a campaign centred around a ‘30 Second Guide’ for HCPs to discuss with their patients. It had the biggest response of any smoking cessation campaign we’d run –ultimately driving over 10K GPs and nurses to the content.”

Nick Burgoyne, Client Services Director at Purple Agency

Stopping smoking is a big emotional investment – and not one that people enter into lightly. In fact, the average smoker tries to quit over 30 times.*

Whilst awareness campaigns do give brands a platform, it takes expertise and insight to use that platform to build a message that hits the spot and grabs attention. At Purple, we use our experience to balance the science with the creative. Why? Because in the world of smoking cessation there isn’t much an HCP hasn’t seen.

It’s time to make the science shine through, and make campaigns that stand out, and actually work.


*Healthline, 2016