As I was sitting in the movie theater watching previews of the many Oscar-nominated flicks that came out this winter, I noticed a theme: health has again made its way into our movies.
Movies like Cake, Still Alice and The Theory of Everything are offering glimpses into diseases and conditions which many of us have never seen. These powerful stories allow us to deeply understand things like chronic pain, Alzheimer’s and ALS from the patient’s perspective. And, these actors can’t help but get Oscar buzz when portraying such raw and honest emotion, often doing major research and even meeting patients in order to bring real authenticity to their performance.
In fact, a new series on cancer research set to release in March is deeply personal to those involved in the project. Ken Burns, the filmmaker, lost his mom to cancer. Sharon Rockefeller, the project’s initiator, is a colon cancer survivor. And, Edward Hermann, the narrator, died of brain cancer shortly after completing work on the film. I’m not sure you can get more personal or genuine.
Even more than a blog post or video that claims to tell a patient’s story but comes off as a promo for the hospital, these movies tell a story of what it’s really like to face these kinds of illnesses, in turn helping consumers better comprehend and empathize. It’s education and awareness in the form of a movie.
These types of health-based movies aren’t new. Lorenzo’s Oil from 1993 is the story of a young boy diagnosed with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an extremely rare degenerative brain disorder, and his search for a cure. The King’s Speech— nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winner of four, including Best Picture and a Best Actor trophy for Colin Firth — received major recognition for its depiction of stuttering, an often misunderstood health issue. The Hours followed three main characters deeply affected by depression. And, there are many other examples of movies that create some understanding of complicated diseases like Alzheimer’s and Autism or prompt greater acceptance and discussion of misunderstood conditions like schizophrenia or OCD.
However, the recent string reveals the growing trend of storytelling that we are currently seeing in health and healthcare PR. These days we have little time and short attention spans, so consumers aren’t interested in long articles on your newest research or canned stories of how your organization changes lives. They want to be entertained.
Since we don’t all have the million dollar budgets for award-winning feature films, this could take a variety of other forms. Maybe it’s an unedited blog series written by a patient revealing the good, bad and ugly of their recovery. Or it could be a documentary video following a patient through their treatment. Whatever it is, tell the story from the perspective of a patient or caregiver, not from your organization. And, be honest and authentic.
This movie trend also reminds us of the need to put faces on our causes. Just like Julianna Moore has become a face for Alzheimer’s, consumers are looking for a real person to associate with your message, not a mid-thirties blond from iStock photos. Give your cause a face and a voice.
And though you may not always be clued in during the development of movies related to your healthcare cause or association, you should be taking advantage of the buzz when they are released! Leverage pop culture conversations that intersect with your messaging on social media, like The American Physical Therapy Association (client) did in the example to the right. Or post a commentary/review on your website like The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association did with Cake. You could even use it as an opportunity to pitch media on the story, offering your experts for quotes and analysis, like the Alzheimer’s Association did with Still Alice. Even if you didn’t create the spotlight, good communicators know when to use it!
So, grab some Milk Duds and hit your local theater to take in some of these impactful features. You can even call it work research!
What have been some of your favorite health-related movies and what have you learned from them? Tell us in the comments!
Photo Credit: IMDb