July 14, 2023

Inspiring Action: Pharma Advertisers as a Force to Address Climate-Related Health Inequities 

glass globe held by man

The Urgent Need for Action 

Climate scientists and activists have been tirelessly working to sound the alarm on climate change and its impacts, but despite their efforts, meaningful intervention is too slow in coming. Climate change and health inequities demand immediate attention, and pharma advertisers are uniquely positioned to drive change. Most of us who work in pharma advertising do so because we believe we can make a difference. As experts in shaping public opinion, consumer behavior, and cultural norms, pharma agencies can use their influence to bring these crucial issues to the forefront. By harnessing our experience and collaborating with client partners, we have the potential to make a lasting, positive impact. 

The Connection Between Climate Change and Health Inequities 

Vulnerable communities, including low-income families, people of color, and those in developing countries, are disproportionately affected by climate change. They face more significant climate change consequences and limited healthcare access, exacerbating health inequities. Each of these examples below holds challenges that we can address with our expertise:

  • Air pollution near industrial zones and highways raises respiratory illnesses like asthma and COPD. 
  • Mental health is affected by climate change-related events, affecting marginalized populations with limited access to services. 
  • Vector-borne diseases are increasing due to climate change, disproportionately impacting developing countries with inadequate healthcare.  
  • Food insecurity rises as climate change affects crop yields, leading to shortages, higher prices, and reduced access to nutritious food. 
  • Water scarcity is an increasingly common issue, particularly in developing countries, leading to waterborne diseases, dehydration, and inadequate sanitation. 
  • Extreme weather vulnerability is experienced by low-income communities and developing countries without the resources to prepare and recover from hurricanes, floods, and heat waves. 

The Compelling Business Case 

Companies prioritizing sustainability and social responsibility enjoy improved brand reputation, consumer loyalty, and long-term success. According to a 2017 Nielsen study, brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability experienced sales growth at a rate of 5.3%, compared to a 1% growth rate for those without such commitment. This highlights the potential financial benefits of taking a stand on climate change and health equity. Pharma clients that credibly prioritize health inequities due to climate change can benefit from elevated brand reputation and increased growth. 

Strategies to Capture Attention and Motivate Action 

Pharma agencies can supercharge these efforts with behavioral science strategies to create more engaging and effective campaigns that address climate change and health inequity issues. Renowned social psychologist and persuasion expert Dr. Robert Cialdini emphasizes the importance of using concepts such as social norms, loss aversion, simplicity, framing and messaging, and commitment devices. Employing strategies like these can capture attention and drive action. 

Inspiration from Successful Campaigns 

Here are some campaigns and initiatives that have successfully addressed health inequities: 

  • Clean Team: IDEO partnered with Unilever and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) to develop Clean Team, providing affordable sanitation to low-income households in Ghana. This initiative addresses health inequity caused by inadequate facilities, which can lead to the spread of diseases. 
  • Invisible Air Pollution Made Visible: The Lung Foundation in the Netherlands developed a mobile air check to raise awareness about the country’s air pollution, which causes over 5,000 deaths annually. The app uses selfies to reveal real-time, location-based air pollution levels, making this invisible problem visible and engaging the public in the call for a National Air Plan. 
  • The Real Bears by the Center for Science in the Public Interest: This campaign addresses health inequity by highlighting the adverse health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages. The animated video features a family of polar bears struggling with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other soft drink-related health issues, encouraging people to make healthier choices. 

Thoughtful Ways Pharma Clients Can Make a Difference 

Pharma clients can adopt sustainable practices, raise climate change and health awareness, foster community resilience, and collaborate with nonprofit organizations. By embracing eco-friendly production and packaging, nurturing awareness about climate change and health, supporting community resilience, and forming genuine partnerships with nonprofits like Health Care Without Harm, the World Health Organization, and Doctors Without Borders, pharmaceutical advertisers can play an active and caring role in addressing health inequity related to climate change. 

Elevating Awareness, Inspiring Action

Climate change and its impact on health inequity require urgent attention. Advertising, particularly in the pharma industry, can shape public opinion and behavior, encouraging action on these pressing issues. By tapping into emotions and values, employing behavioral science strategies, and learning from successful campaigns, pharma agencies can create compelling campaigns that motivate change. By taking decisive and informed action, pharmaceutical advertisers have the potential to make a real difference in addressing climate change and its associated health inequities.