Zombies and the Cultural Tension Surrounding Healthcare

Shelagh Brooke thumbnailAs the healthcare experts of Ogilvy, we understand that people are motivated to change behavior in response to a tension in their lives—that gap between where they are now and where they want to be.  Often, recognition of this tension is in response to an event—a diagnosis, a heart attack, a bad test result, hitting 200 on the scale. And that can drive individuals to change, even if only for a while.

As part of the Ogilvy community at large, we understand that brands can change behavior in response to a tension in the culture, providing an opportunity to build a more meaningful connection with their target. That’s why, when developing a Big IdeaL, we devote time to identifying the relevant cultural tension as a springboard to change. So Dove transitioned from “natural beauty” to “a campaign for real beauty” in response to a tension of the times—that is, that women continued to be portrayed in popular media in a fashion that few could ever hope to attain. 

Beyond brand expression, artistic expression, especially in popular culture, is often a response to a pervasive tension in society, allowing us to confront that fear within the safety of fiction. In the ’50s, fears of communism infiltrating all walks of American life—and our legislature’s response—found its cultural expression in the warning contained in Invasion of the Body Snatchers

In the ’70s, social upheaval, the Vietnam war, the resignation of a President and a collapsing economy gave rise to the “disaster movie” which became a box-office staple. The Poseidon Adventure and its copycats were all built on common themes—incompetent and corrupt leadership that put people at risk and the character-defining choices individuals made in response to the ensuing chaos. 

Fast forward to the present and consider our current fascination with zombies. Notice how zombies have evolved from a few voodoo, lumbering lunkheads to seething hives of fast-moving, interconnected killing machines. Their evolution has apparently also influenced vampire behavior. No longer hypnotic solitary creatures that embody our love/hate relationship with death, they’ve also morphed to become part of the mindless hive.  

If you’re willing to stick with the program here, I would suggest that the evolution of zombies is in response to the collision of two long-standing cultural tensions. First is our fear of losing individuality, threatened by technology, regulation, fundamentalism and pervasive government watching and listening—all of which we hold in tension with our desire to feel connected and safe. Second is another all-time favorite fear: pandemic contagion, regarded as the potentially nasty consequence of godlike tinkering with the human genome, which we hold in tension with our desire to find better cures for disease within the grand design of our own DNA.

So, what do you get when you combine contagion with the loss of individualism? Infectious mindlessness. And that equals, you got it, the new zombie.

So, to bring this back to the Big IdeaL, what is the best self that goes up against infectious mindlessness?   Taking my cue from Will Smith and Brad Pitt, I’d suggest something along the lines of:  The courage to find and face the source of humanity’s illness.

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And a Big IdeaL that addresses the tension by leveraging our best selves? 

It is a cruel coincidence that, as World War Z was preparing to launch, Brad Pitt’s life partner was making her own mindful, courageous choice. She was able to do so because she was informed; she knew enough to be tested for the BRCA genetic mutation, was prepared for the implications of a positive test and understood her options. And, knowing that she is a cultural lightening-rod, she was willing to put this decision into the bright glare of public scrutiny and commentary because she knew there was still so much work to be done to ensure that people everywhere could be as informed as she was. 

Which brings me back to OCHWW, as the healthcare experts of Ogilvy. Is it too outrageous to suggest that a proliferation of zombies in popular culture has its roots in our deep anxiety about healthcare?  Regardless, it is unquestionably occupying a large share of the public dialogue. And that puts us at the center of an evolving healthcare landscape that will require more personal accountability in healthcare behavior and treatment choices.

That means we have important work to do. Let’s live into a Big ideaL of truly inspiring informed, mindful healthcare decisions.

Let’s bring an understanding of healthcare choices to the people in a way that is engaging, relatable and actionable. 

Remember—zombies are lurking.

The world is counting on us.

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