The rise of maker culture over the last decade—beyond specialty mags and tech-heavy message boards—has been as inspiring as it's been meteoric. We're at the point where a major athletic brand like Under Armour is experimenting with 3-D printed sneakers.
Open-source technology and design has many industries shaking in their brand boots (and has given their legal departments the flop sweats). And given the sheer volumes of regulation and legislation, one might expect the health care industry to be the least receptive to public tinkering. That said, it's also the area where greater personalization and problem-solving could potentially have the most significant impact on people's lives.
That's what global chief creative officer of Publicis Health Graham Mills was thinking when he brought scientists, tech thinkers and makers Cory Doctorow, James Young, and Dr. Gokul Krishnan to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, to discuss how the maker movement could provide valuable insight into new ways of transforming the health experience and improving outcomes.
Imagine you lost your arm in an accident, but had the chance to help design your own prosthetic limb—from its functionality to style—instead of trying to adapt to a generic model that doesn't ever quite fit right. Jamie Young did just that, as part of Konami's Phantom Limb Project, a rather unique marketing initiative for Metal Gear Solid 5 that teamed with Sophie de Oliveira Barata's Alternative Limb Project to help create a new arm that actually felt good and looked cool.
But one of the things Young found out was that, while the arm—which looks straight out of sci-fi—was great, perhaps its biggest impact was emotional. "Health is personal," said Young. "It's very powerful for people to have control or influence on their treatment."
Last summer, Dr. Krishnan, a learning scientist and mechanical engineer, was invited to the White House as President Obama proclaimed June 12-18 the National Week of Making. Krishnan created Maker Therapy, which provides mobile maker work stations to young patients at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital in Nashville.
Krishnan told the Cannes Lions audience that even though his maker stations were helping entertain and engage kids suffering from all types of illness, the common denominator was, like with Young, its emotional impact. He told the audience of agency and health care brands, "It's about taking a symbiotic approach to health care marketing, and the link between physical and mental health."
Cory Doctorow said it was up to companies to challenge laws like DMCA to foster this kind of innovation, and that sitting on the sidelines of maker culture doesn't help anyone. "Abstinence education always fails, whether you're talking about sex or hardware," said Doctorow.
Health care and pharmaceutical companies are among the most conservative when it comes to experimentation, but Mills says the sooner discussions like this happen, the better. "There's so much legislation and regulation in health care, that the immediate answer [from brands] is no," says Mills. "But if there's a big enough movement of people who want to do this and create a more personal connection to their health then we should find a way to make that happen."
Mills says that embracing a maker mentality doesn't necessarily have to just apply to product design, it's about communication between companies, doctors, and patients. But it's going to take time. For one Publicis Health client, it took a more than a year and a half of hand-holding to convince them to join social media in a meaningful way. Now 100% of their marketing budget is spent in social.
"Even just a few years ago, you couldn't get pharma near social media," said Mills. "Terrified. And even when they first started they didn't want any comments, just wanted to post things and that's it. Well, that's not how it works. Slowly now, we're seeing more and more examples of these companies allowing patients and the public to join the conversation, and it's built a very different community around the brands."
One such example is how pharmaceutical company AbbVie created a non-branded tumblr to give young people living with cystic fibrosis a social outlet to talk about their condition, enzymes, and digestion.
"You don't just have to change the product or hardware, you can change the experience around things," said Mills. "You can bring people who are dealing with these products and services come in and help design the experience, as opposed to some guy at an ad agency making it up."