‘They have to start acting like big brands’: What the home-care reforms will mean for marketers, creatives and brands

Today marks the first stage of the Australian government’s changes to home-care packages, as part of their 10-year plan to reform the aged care sector in Australia. Zoe Samios speaks to adland about the creative opportunities and budget challenges that will come with the reforms, and how to reposition a brand that has hardly, if ever, been marketed to consumers before.

In the past twelve months, organisations in the aged-care sector have been forced to create, change and shift marketing strategy and resources, to focus on their consumers for the first time.

The change comes ahead of the home-care reforms the Australian Government is implementing today, which will allow people to direct their government subsidies to an aged-care provider of their own choice.

Previously, the Australian Government was responsible for allocating home-care funding to different providers, removing consumer choice from the equation.

From today, the elderly will have the choice of how and where they allocate funds, to ensure they are choosing a provider that meet their needs.

While bigger players in the aged-care industry may have previously had a commercial-focused strategy in place, others are now recruiting marketers into their businesses for the first time, to reposition their brand, create awareness and differentiate from the competition.

“The whole timing around this and the reason we are starting to see so much is because of the reforms,” says Derry Simpson, 303 MullenLowe Perth’s agency leader of strategy and planning.

Simpson was most recently involved in a campaign for new aged-care brand Southern Plus.

303 MullenLowe’s latest work for Southern Plus Care aimed to appeal to the ‘independent generation.’

“This sector has been invisible for a long time, because all of their marketing efforts and comms efforts have been focused on business to business,” she says.

The first stage of the home-care reforms will pull “the middle man out” and give consumers the opportunity to decide where they allocate their government subsidy.

However, the new amendments have also sent brands into a panic as they rush to figure out how to re-position and form a consumer-focused proposition for the first time.

Lara Stephen, marketing manager at St Ives Home Care says the new reforms have caused a “complete shift of frame of mind” for businesses such as hers in the industry.

She says as the changes come into play, “personalising communications” and educating consumers will be the keys to success.

“It’s a journey, a marketing and maturity journey for a lot of companies. I’ve been in aged care for four years and we’ve seen a lot of change and varying degrees of marketing activity,” Stephen adds.

Stephen: Reforms have caused a “marketing and maturity journey”

For Gill Walker, founder of Evergreen advertising, a specialist agency for the 50+ demographic, the reforms have been a “God-send.”

“We’ve had lots of clients in the category that have never had budgets and this has made them go ‘holy hell,’” she explains.

“Many of the small players never even had a marketing plan and it wasn’t even discussed.”

Walker says because of the high demand and allocation by the government, the industry had no need to market themselves.

She adds while the bigger organisations with multi-level offerings – both out-of-home and in-home care – were more prepared, small players will struggle with a lack of marketing resources.

Gill Walker: Reforms a “god-send”

Kevin Moreland, partner and director of BCM partnership says aged-care organisations will need to really think about how they’re actually marketing themselves.

“There has been a focus on upskilling and increasing their capacities from a marketing point of view,” Moreland says.

Managing budgets

“They’ve never spent money like this before in their lives on communication. What they think is the biggest budget ever isn’t particularly big in this day in age to get cut-through,” Simpson explains.

“They have to start acting like big brands.”

Simpson: “They have to start acting like big brands”

This inexperience is causing some smaller organisations to blow their entire budgets on one campaign – risking the death of the brand, Walker warns.

“The big players will stand their ground and use their resources to be able to be in the best mediums, get the best spots, get more noise, that will continue. They’ll be safe,” she tells Mumbrella.

“The middle will go: ‘Do we go left or right?’, and look for more alignment in groups getting together – like an IGA model.

“And then you’ll see lots of little rats and mice die. They’ll blow their budgets and that’ll be it.”

“Those are the ones that worry me the most from the ad industry’s point of view. I have wasted lots and lots of time having meetings thinking these people have money, and we say: ‘What’s your budget?’ ‘Oh we don’t have a budget,’” she explains.

“For years and years, they haven’t had to worry about it. They’ve been full. The government has funded them and now the consumer has the keys to the money box.”

“If we didn’t have the reforms, you wouldn’t see such a sharp increase in spend.”

Moreland says understanding what kind of budget is available will be essential in order to prioritise channels.  

An education process needs to take place do help organisations approach consumer marketing going forward, he adds.

“There is an education process that needs to occur with some clients and organisations about: What does it look like and cost? How do we connect with consumers in a way that’s meaningful?”

“Marketers who’ve been first to market will take stock and will say: ‘Well what did we achieve? And what does that mean for our brand?’

Moreland: “Cultural re-adjustment is going to occur”

Moreland also believes it will be important for small players to acknowledge for-profit organisations will often be “well-resourced.”

“The challenges for the not-for-profits is so take a more commercial view.

“Cultural re-adjustment is going to occur – for-profits have that commercial mindset.

“There’s going to be internal wranglings for the not-for-profit organisations for a little while to come and ultimately there’ll be some organisations that will have to resign themselves.”

Despite this, he says “credibility”, “care” and “concern” will give not-for-profits advantages should they resign to a more commercial view.

Targeting a dual audience

In other sectors, an audience is usually highly-targeted, based on factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and habits.

One of the bigger challenges for creatives in this space will be effectively targeting an audience that includes both the client, and the client’s family and friends.

Moreland says targeting the dual audiences is particularly challenging.

“There’s a unique dynamic that’s going on. Your age and capability are tied up with your identity. It’s very challenging and carefully thought through, how you market to the audience versus families.”

Moreland: Dual audiences “challenging”

He also warns creatives to be careful of targeting influencer audiences without making it appear as though clients – the elderly – can’t be relied upon.

“There’s a need for a nuanced approach to ensure that both markets are serviced well, but that the communications manages the actual user, the aged-care recipient, with some kind of integrity.”

“This aspect of control is a very important one. An important part of communication strategy is giving control.

“You need a dual-audience strategy and you need to contemplate the media channels that are going to reach both audiences effectively and connect with both audiences effectively so that whoever instigates the discussion, that there is a kind of knowing acceptance of a brand, a brand position.”

While approaching these audiences may be challenging, Moreland says the organisations and their employees tend to be “high touch” with their consumer base which helps with the process.

Simpson similarly tells creatives to be wary of the two very different audiences you are trying to reach.

“You are talking to a very traditional audience at that end, at the higher-care end,” she explains to Mumbrella.

“You’ve got those in need who require care, but you also have their family and friends who are probably with elderly parents.”


However, Simpson says there are ways to target audiences differently through different channels.

“We are being quite targeted in the messaging, there’s a lot of focus on family members that you can do through digital and social and be more nimble and more interactive.

“The more traditional stuff, which we are stepping back from in so many other categories, is re-emerging for this older group.”

The most recent campaign Simpson worked on for Southern Cross Care tapped into this idea, with a TVC targeting the ‘independent generation’ by recognising their life achievements.

Differentiating brands through advertising

As marketers and creatives try to re-brand long-standing organisations to appeal to their audience, Walker says finding the “simplistic truth” will be key to reaching consumers and differentiating from other brands.

“Spend the time understanding the different motives based on the different products and the different audiences,” she says.

It’s not all about what your grandmother did. Forget that, it’s not relevant. It’s about finding that simplistic truth.

“It’s exciting that it’s a new category and it’s very noisy, and the ones that have a deeper understanding will get better results because the ads will resonate,” she says.

MannaCare: Work created by Walker’s agency in July 2016.

Moreland believes innovation – “mechanisms to maximise the opportunity for connection” – will be the key differentiator in the space as it adapts to the reforms.

He adds “emotional connection” will be another way to reach consumers effectively.

“That comes back in part to an understanding of the fact we are talking about people’s identity, and so the more you demonstrate empathy with, ‘We understand who you are’, [the more successful you’ll be],” he explains.

Moreland’s agency BCM created a campaign for Prescare which, similar to Southern Cross Care, aimed to push the idea of independence.

“Organisations that demonstrate empathy and it’s not about respect for the aged, it’s about respect for the individual – yes it can be displayed in marketing and advertising but ultimately it has to be displayed at the moment of the truth and that will sort out in part who wins and who loses,” he tells Mumbrella.

Commenting on the most powerful mediums, Walker says TV is still most effective for the aged-care sector, however notes few could afford it.

“Digital is fantastic because you can do a lot of video and explanation,” she says.

“Press, radio, outdoor – that’s the fantastic thing about the category. And the market opportunity is nation-wide, it’s not going away.”

Bringing an “invisible” sector to life

While the aged-care industry isn’t heavily advertising to its audience yet, Simpson believes the sector will become “highly competitive” in the next few months as religious brands will be forced to pitch, and says the creative scope will only “grow and grow”.

“These brands have to go from totally invisible to highly credible overnight and that’s the big challenge,” she says.

“You have to be careful, brands spend years building credibility and these guys have to basically get in front of that.”

Stephen says St Ives Home Care’s partnership agency Marketforce has found building the brand particularly interesting, working on campaign’s including ‘Home Care Translator’ and ‘Every Pair of Hands tells a story.”

“We partner with Marketforce and I think they’re finding that creatively a very interesting space to be in, given there hasn’t been any historical big awareness pieces and television and all those sort of things – so creatively it’ll be interesting and there’ll definitely be a lot of activity,” she says.

“You’ll see a change over time as marketing teams get more mature approaches and build deeper relationships with their creative agencies and a deeper understanding of that space.”

She adds: “It’s so new that [when the reforms kick in] none of us really know how it’s going to go and what decisions customers are going to make. It’s an industry with a lot of change. There’s potential for disruption and it’s a very exciting time to be a marketer.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.