I see a clear mental image of my two friends, young, healthy and in love. David has dark, curly, shoulder-length hair and almost always a big smile on his intelligent face. Shawn is lovely in that moment with her flowing gauze blouse and locks of golden hair encircling rosy cheeks.
This moment has them standing before a gently flowing creek, sunshine of early spring beaming down on their heads and shoulders, warming them with the promises of a season of rebirth. Around them, lime green of newly leafing trees and pink redwood blossoms add electric color to a Kodachrome moment. There they stand, embracing, warmth radiating from their young love: a moment of youthful passion, reverence for natural beauty, the bounty of a caring relationship.
This memory formed during the early seventies yet remains deep-seated, available for recall with the right provocation.
I spoke recently with David after nearly forty years have passed and reminisced about that good spring day we had spent together with Shawn, hiking around a Kansas ranch. He told me sadly that Shawn had died of breast cancer just a year earlier, a disease that had taken hold and spread beyond a cure before diagnosis—perhaps a preventable fatality.
So now my happy memory has a sad ending. I never had a chance to say good-bye to Shawn or reminisce with her about that special day when spring beauty and simple pleasures had brought us closer together.
Sad endings like this can be more preventable with early access to healthcare and the newest diagnostic tools. Creating happy endings has become the focus of General Electric, summarized by a new neologism: healthymagination.
The company is asking three critical questions about the future of healthcare:
- How do we improve access to healthcare for consumers?
- How can we usher in technologies that reduce the cost of healthcare?
- How can we improve clinical outcomes through better quality diagnostics?
Finding answers to these questions requires commitment, clear goal setting and capital. So GE is investing $6 billion over six years to develop 100 innovations that will improve healthcare quality while driving down costs.
GE’s website succinctly summarizes its lofty goals for the new healthcare initiative:
Healthymagination is about becoming healthier, through the sharing of imaginative ideas and proven solutions. It goes beyond innovations in the fields of technology and medicine, celebrating the people behind these advancements. Seeking to build stronger relationships between patients and doctors, GE created Healthymagination to gather, share and discuss healthy ideas.
Jeff Immelt, General Electric CEO, and Mike Barber, Vice President for healthymagination, have taken this vision into the realm of measurable action steps:
- Provide more affordable healthcare
- Make healthcare information technology more effective
- Commit to technology innovations
- Improve healthcare access worldwide
- Address prevention, earlier diagnosis and treatment
- Help GE employees become healthier while adopting innovative healthcare plans
The healthymagination initiative came to my attention as it did for millions of other television viewers during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The company unveiled five new television ads created and produced by BBDO.
BBDO is the legendary global advertising agency network that received the distinction of “Agency of the Year” in 2005 from Advertising Age, Adweek and Campaign magazines. With these credentials—and a client stable including Gillette, Motorola, Pfizer, Pepsi and Chrysler—the agency stands above peers for its powerful and motivating advertising programs.
One healthymagination television commercial in particular caught my imagination, a spot simply called “Beautiful.”
My mind had been distracted by Lindsey Vonn’s spectacular Gold Medal win in the women’s downhill event. I was looking forward to returning to NBC’s coverage and hardly enthusiastic about commercial interruptions in that moment of athletic triumph. But suddenly I saw a couple who could have been my friends David and Shawn as they were in the early 1970s. And then soft music and slow pacing drew me into the commercial...
Regina Ebel, Executive Vice President and Director of Films for BBDO, conveyed her heartfelt story when explaining this spot in a BBDO video about the campaign:
“Beautiful is a very emotional spot about a couple that have been together their whole lives. It’s really special to me because I lost a sister to breast cancer,” said Ms. Ebel. “When I saw the images of this young girl going through life, it was my sister. It was that beautiful young girl. My sister didn’t have the good fortune to get the good news.”
“And (the story) ends with them sharing an experience when the wife finds out she is going to be okay. That’s the most beautiful moment.”
The commercial takes viewers through a series of vignettes conveying a romantic journey that will seem familiar and nostalgic to millions of Baby Boomers. Production techniques rely on soft, richly saturated images as would have been filmed by a handheld Super-8 mm camera 40 years ago. And then the montage of their young lives unfolds...
The story begins with a young woman on a beach at sunset. Then the setting cuts to a young couple together on the beach, huddled under a beach towel. The young man has curly long hair, like my friend, David, setting the period in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
He speaks as a voiceover in a soft, rich voice, full of authenticity:
“I’ve seen beautiful things. I’ve seen the sunrise paint the desert. Witnessed snowfall on the first day of spring. Watched fireflies dance about the evening sky.”
As he speaks softly, accompanied by the Second Movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, images continue to appear in this dreamy montage: sleeping on a train, perhaps a trip together though Europe, and camping in the desert in a VW bus.
Then the spot reveals their middle years becoming a family: playing in the snow with a toddler and hiking as a middle-aged couple with two young teenage children and a dog. Then another vignette suggests a party for her, perhaps a 40th or 50th birthday celebration, with many friends and family members surrounding her.
Finally, we see an older couple in present time, sitting in a doctor’s office and looking at images of her cancer on a GE Early Detection medical device. His eyes are red and damp from the emotional intensity of his wife’s prognosis, and he continues to narrate:
“But the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen is the image on the screen that helped our doctors see my wife’s cancer was treatable.”
The spot cuts to a medical doctor, now explaining to the aging couple what he sees diagnostically. Voiceover narration provides the final insight about the sponsor of this advertisement and its purpose:
“GE technologies help doctors detect cancer early so they can save more lives… bringing better health to more people.”
The URL for this initiative fills the final screens: healthmagination.com. GE. Imagination at work. Then an Olympic logo reveals the advertiser’s corporate sponsorship of the Winter Games.
It’s quite remarkable how Don Schneider, Executive Creative Director for BBDO, and his creative team so fully captured nuances of Boomer life experiences reaching back as far as the late sixties or early seventies. (Then again, maybe it’s not as remarkable when you learn that Don Schneider is a Boomer who began his career at BBDO in 1980, further sharpening the point that if you want to capture this generation with great advertising, use talent from the generation to create the ads.)
Through BBDO’s rich tableau, Boomers, especially members of the leading edge born between 1946 and 1955, discover imagery that’s reminiscent of their own life experiences.
Not all Boomers frolicked on a beach at sunset; but many did. Not all Boomers camped in the desert or drove a VW van; but many did. Not all explored a new-fallen snow with a toddler; but many did. Not all Boomers took nature walks with their teenage children; but many did.
Somewhere in this cascade of artfully composed vignettes, most Boomers will recall something from the past—personally relevant slices-of-life that make the message and messenger all the more authentic. After seeing about twelve historical vignettes, a few images will be true and relevant to most viewers who are of the appropriate age.
An emotional catharsis—the scary possibility of losing a life partner and then learning with relief that doctors have found her cancer early enough—burrows into a universal fear of losing a spouse too early. Then GE provides salvation through its Early Detection imaging technologies. All those memories of young love and youth can be shared long into the future; now more memories will be created together.
It’s not over yet.
BBDO media planners made exactly the right call when placing the ads within NBC’s Winter Olympic Games programming. Boomers disproportionately populated the program audiences. As reported in The Washington Post, Nielsen identified the primary audience to be viewers 55 and older: “Ratings among viewers age 55 and older are 82% higher than the national average. Conversely, ratings among teens are 57% lower than the average.”
As Boomers continue to age, advertisers are going to discover more opportunities to reach this generation through nostalgic memories of a youthful period often idealized as the best of times.
GE’s healthymagination campaign demonstrates a sophisticated and nuanced case study in which a product can be associated with the most powerful of all motivations: yearning to hold onto and experience precious moments in our lives again … and again. When you join these memories with the promise of a future filled with equally entrancing stories, yet to be told, you’ve conceived a winning strategy for brand identity, emotional resonance and corporate image development.
David, my friend from the seventies, has become older as I have; Shawn has sadly passed away. Yet their vitality, love and warmth have been encoded in my long-term memory and this moment endures—a sunny day, a rambling creek and the evanescent promise of a joyful future together.
As sensitive advertisers reach into that wellspring of my life, they speak to me in a language beyond words or selling. They ask me to consider their brand as a valid part of my future because it so successfully understands my past.
Excerpted from Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future. Coming Fall 2010! Send us an email message to receive notification when Brent's newest book becomes available.