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4 Learnings from Ad Age Next: Health & Wellness

What we’re taking away from this year’s virtual conference by Tristan Stevens & Christen Casey

The only constant is change. So we’re constantly analyzing the trends, shifts, and innovations taking place in the health & wellness space. And Ad Age’s Next event proved the perfect opportunity to take a peek behind the curtain. This year’s virtual event was full of insights on the sea change currently underway in the sector and hinted at what we’ll be seeing in the future.

Here are our top takeaways:

1. Behind Pfizer’s New Image

It’s on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Pfizer has never been more topical than today thanks to their ingenuity and leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Pfizer landed a coveted place on Fortune World’s Most Admired list at #4 — just behind Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. But it wasn’t only their heroic efforts in vaccine development that propelled them to the top. Ed Harnaga, Senior VP and Head of External Communications and Enterprise Reputation, shared that there has been a concerted effort, three years in the making, to reposition the brand as a science-based company including a long-overdue brand refresh (after 70+ years of sporting the same brand identity) that has positioned them as a champion of science.

Pfizer’s rebrand introduced a new logo and marked a shift in its increased commitment to breakthrough science that will continue to change people’s lives.

Their recent “Science Will Win” campaign has not only become a mantra within Pfizer but is also proving to move the needle around brand health metrics that were desperate for revitalization. Through their focus on science and the passion they bring to preventing and curing disease, they have seen an incredible response from consumers including a 20% increase in perception as a science and patient company, a 34% YOY increase in brand favorability, and 54% increase in confidence in their focus on science. Best of all, 50% of consumers believe Pfizer’s best days still lie ahead for the company.

Their secret to success? According to Harnaga, Pfizer has begun communicating to patients on their terms: providing transparency, access, approachability, and infusing humor where appropriate. He hinted at ways Pfizer is working to get consumers excited around innovation areas beyond vaccine development (keep your eyes peeled for new work launching soon), to elevate other focus areas for the company, and the value they continue to bring to society. We’re looking forward to watching how Pfizer continues to build on this momentum.

2. What’s next in the sleep health revolution

You may have noticed there’s a cultural shift taking place in the way we talk about sleep: Sleep has become an essential aspect of self-care and overall health and well-being. Between the 89 sleep-related questions Healthline is answering every minute, to the massive amounts of data Oura Ring is collecting through its wearable tech, Erin Edge (Healthline) and Karina Kogan (Oura Ring) led a discussion around this sleep revolution, sharing how their companies are witnessing more and more people recognizing the impact sleep has on other aspects of their lives, and how they’re aiding consumers in their quest to treat sleep as a right versus a reward.

The sleep landscape is changing as sleep becomes more top of mind for overall health and well-being.

If you’re not familiar with Oura Ring, it’s a sleep and activity tracker able to capture heart rate and body temperature with a high degree of accuracy — all through an unobtrusive $300 health-monitoring device worn on one’s finger. Since its launch in 2013, Oura Ring has remained differentiated from other wearable tech due to its focus on sleep and recovery tracking. And, as is any marketer’s dream, it has gained significant celebrity following with the likes of Prince Harry, Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, and Gwyneth Paltrow all sporting the ring and sharing their stats publicly. And although everyone’s tracking is highly personalized and unique, Oura can gather sleep behaviors and trends on a macro scale including insights against current, cultural happenings. For instance, Oura was able to track 138 million hours of lost sleep on election night in 2020.

Another sleep-related trend we’ll be tracking? As more and more consumers prioritize their sleep, Healthline predicts consumers will begin to look at how clean and green their purchases are, i.e., non-toxic mattresses, environmentally friendly materials in bedding, etc. So don’t sleep on enviromentally-conscious behavior changes from consumers.

3. Toppling taboos in women’s and sexual health

With taboos fading, more consumers are craving education and real talk around their bodies and the products that help better their health and well-being. Procter & Gamble’s Tampax brand is here to help with a new period education campaign and aims to normalize these conversations.

Melissa Suk, VP of North America, Tampax and Always, shared that 41% of women say they’re not completely confident they know how to correctly insert a tampon. And even for a brand that has been around for more than 80 years, they hadn’t thought to elevate education around women’s bodies and explicitly share how to use their products. So, it’s no surprise that as they sought to revitalize the Tampax brand, education became the central theme in their messaging (and it hasn’t hurt having Amy Schumer as their spokesperson to inject some humor as well).

Though we’re headed in the right direction, brands championing the normalization of feminine products, such as unlocking one’s sexual potential and discreet breast pumping tools, are still stumbling across hurdles to climb and taboos to topple.

Periods, breastfeeding, sexual pleasure: These are the taboo topics around women’s health being rethought in the health & wellness space.

In 2018, Elvie, the silent, smart wearable electronic breast pump designed to discreetly slip inside your bra had 90% of their ads rejected from Facebook, now Meta. Similar challenges were faced on TikTok and YouTube where they now depend on building personal relationships to clear their online campaigns with top policymakers to help educate their audience. And let’s not forget about women and sex. In a similar boat, Satisfyer, online purveyor of sexual wellness products and devices, is also finding the algorithms working against them. Content guidelines from these social giants don’t always seem to be clear, fair, or consistently applied.

As we look out to the future and see what success looks like for the next frontier of women’s health, including sexual health, brands will need to continue fighting to normalize these conversations on behalf of those consumers seeking access to more education and information. For those brave enough, brands standing up to the challenge and breaking down these barriers in social media policies would be a climax worth the climb.

4. The fitness challenge: Lessons learned in the race forward to win fitness customers post-pandemic

Hydrow, the leading at-home rowing machine gave us the inside scoop on their successful “Hydrow high” campaign and how maintaining momentum has taken them from pandemic trend to fitness habit without seeing any signs of slow down.

We learned that over the past four years, google trends have seen consumer searches increasing for the rowing category which can help explain the 500% growth Hydrow saw in 2020 and threefold in 2021. Before Hydrow, rowing seemed unapproachable, made for the Ivy leagues, and only for certain body types.

Simply put by Ryan McDaid, Group Strategy Director from Mojo Supermarket, “Consumers don’t have the same association to rowing as the bicycle.”

The challenge of capturing more users wasn’t a Hydrow challenge, it was a home rowing challenge in the category itself. Their solve: appointing Kevin Hart, comedian and actor, as Creative Director. Not only is Hart an advocate of Hydrow, but he’s also engaging, memorable, and not your typical rower. Together with a playful take on the category — laddered up with the consumer insight that users feel a “hydro high” to better take on their day post-workout — the campaign saw tremendous success.

Hydrow has made rowing approachable and turned a fitness trend into habit. So, how does a fitness brand go from trend to habit? According to Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, Chief Commercial Officer at Hydrow,

“If you can keep people engaged and having fun, they’ll continue with the habit, and the more we can show people that it’s about getting out and taking that high into the world.”

We’re looking forward to watching their success unfold as they evolve and continue expanding their reach to infuse that infectious fitness habit for users.

With all these new and exciting changes to the health & wellness space, we’re excited to witness and be a part of what comes next to move the industry forward. Reach out to us at



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