“Real Advertising” by Erica Chiao

I asked a colleague a few months ago how he ended up choosing to bring his creative directing talents to healthcare advertising and he told me, “Erica, really. No one chooses healthcare advertising.” He didn’t have to explain because I totally got him*.

For years, I felt like I wasn’t a real account planner. Not an account planner like those people who work on “real brands” like Nike, Coca-Cola, BMW, or Tide. I held those people in awe, seeing them as the mentors in the cloud whose exploits I could follow, methods I could mine for my use, and pearls of wisdom I could soak up to apply to my practice.

It seemed to me that those account planners were different than me. They were creating culture, finding ways to architect certain aspects of daily life. I mean, maybe to those in my industry there are iconic healthcare brands, but outside of that, iconic healthcare brands are pretty much limited to Prozac and Viagra. And even then, Prozac and Viagra are often just punchlines, not touchstones.

To connect with our consumers over such profoundly meaningful issues is a privilege that I’ll gladly trade in for working on candy or cars any day.

So what was I doing? Was I involved in building brands? Was the advertising I was involved in making effective and interesting, or was it just the dangerous or comical nuisance it’s been largely branded as?

I searched my soul and my project portfolio for the answer. What I found surprised me. Of course my teams were engaged in building brands and creating advertising based on strategies resulting from researched insights. It wasn’t my subject-matter that was at fault, it was me. I was suffering from a mixture of imposter syndrome and inferiority complex.

Here are some of the things you’ll witness me being loud and proud about these days:

Sexy Subject Matter

Healthcare brands may not be sexy enough to share on social media, but healthcare experiences are important parts of our lives. Our brands probably won’t be the feature of those experiences, but the truth is that they often mediate critical portions of healthcare journeys. I expect to see more openness around healthcare experiences and more healthcare activism in the future. Those shared stories truly help people in the midst of difficult times and our brands are facilitating some of those connections, whether in the foreground or not! What we do isn’t only about brand awareness. We’re often most heavily invested in getting important information to those who need it or trying to find ways to improve their healthcare experience.


Health and healthcare are massive parts of our shared humanity. We don’t have to invent our importance. As my father used to say, “Without your health, you have nothing.” Our brands may not be status symbols, but health is certainly a form of wealth. To connect with our consumers over such profoundly meaningful issues is a privilege that I’ll gladly trade in for working on candy or cars any day.

Straight Awesomeness

Whether in healthcare or in any other industry, account planning is a discipline that is about continual learning, continual invention, and continual questioning. For people like me, that’s nirvana! In a market short on talent, account planners have a great deal of freedom to move around to different agencies. I stay put at CDM Princeton because it’s committed to lifechanging brands and lifechanging experiences, which allows everyone to push their thinking and look for new ways to solve marketing problems. That doesn’t mean we’re always on the cutting edge, but it does mean that we’re all together, sharing ideas, and making each other better. That’s everything I want from my career.

by Erica Chiao
Senior Vice President, Account Planner

*I understood him to mean that creatives largely go from working on consumer goods to healthcare for reasons they’re not entirely in control of. His comment took me back to my chronic-self-doubting self, the one that felt like healthcare advertising is “lesser than” other kinds of advertising. Today when people ask me what I do for a living, I say I’m in advertising. I don’t follow that up with, “But for healthcare brands” like I used to.

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