Merck Consumer Health CMO Atilla Cansun saw firsthand the risk of people not preparing for the prospects of living longer when his father retired in his 60s.
"You get this influx of money and have little projects, like painting the walls or the summer home," Mr. Cansun said. "Then this guy who used to be leading a whole [university] department is suddenly concerned about whether the cat stops by to drink the milk. You just reduce people down to where they're underwhelmed."
Rather than stay there, however, his father re-entered the marketplace and now chairs the architecture department at a university in Istanbul at age 72. "And the way he talks about his own future has completely changed."
His father's experience helped inspire Mr. Cansun to launch We100 to deal with a world where living to 100 will be commonplace; the initiative aims to prepare people physically, mentally and financially for what Mr. Cansun calls "100 kick-ass years." We100 is what he terms a "neutral brand" aiming to enlist support from other healthcare companies, governments, nonprofits or even, in his dreams, another vibrant septuagenarian, Pope Francis, or 90-year-old Queen Elizabeth.
Mr. Cansun and Merck aren't alone. In a healthcare market long focused on treating problems, there's a growing focus on preventing them, or more accurately, keeping people healthier so their advancing years are more blessing and less curse. To be sure, in a world of $600 EpiPens and multibillion-dollar cholesterol and erectile dysfunction drugs, there's still more money in treatment than prevention. But even beyond drugs and supplements, the preventive approach is getting more attention in beauty care, where marketers are trying to convince millennials to do things now to prevent the appearance of aging, rather than wait until later to reduce those effects.
Derek Bowen, a former beauty marketer at Coty and Alberto-Culver and Unilever's Tresemmé, now approaches beauty from a different perspective in his current post as chief marketing officer and general manager-consumer packaged goods Americas at supplement marketer NBTY. One of the most successful products of the company's flagship brand, Nature's Bounty, in recent years has been its Hair, Skin & Nails product, designed with such ingredients as argan oil and biotin in supplements to improve looks.
"Beauty has been so externally focused, but the internal piece is really important too," Mr. Bowen said. "What you take, what you eat, is very important to your outer appearance. Beauty companies, because the products are all used on your skin or hair, have not been able to address the inner part of that, which is what we're really tapping into."
Much like beauty marketers, Nature's Bounty focuses on before-and-after demos, running a 30-day challenge campaign that asks consumers to look at results after a month of taking the product.
For the first time, in 2015 growth of skincare products fell below that of fragrances, something NPD Group analyst Karen Grant attributes to a slowdown in antiaging skincare. Replacing it somewhat are supplements designed to "work from the inside out," she said. Dollar sales of supplements to improve facial appearance alone have grown fivefold in two years, albeit to a modest $4.1 million in 2015, even as sales of antiaging products declined.
Skin creams are not disappearing; the focus and marketplace are shifting. One of the fastest-growing beauty brands of recent years has been Rodan & Fields, which saw sales nearly double last year to $626 million, marketed heavily on Facebook by independent distributors and fueled in part by millennials turning to preventive skincare.
Rodan & Fields' core consumer averages a bit younger than that for traditional antiaging products at 40, said Lynn Emmolo, chief brand officer. But millennials much younger than that are a major segment for the brand. "Millennials are looking at skincare at an earlier age, but they're not thinking of antiaging," Ms. Emmolo said. "They're thinking about prevention, so part of our line is about the prevention story—products that have SPF protection and treat skin to prevent problems."
Mr. Bowen prefers not to use the terms "prevention" or "treatment," but as NBTY looks to expand the market for its supplements, the focus is clearly toward the former. A new Nature's Bounty campaign, for example, shows a message from the future to a woman telling her she should take more fish oil.
For Merck Consumer Health, there's a link between preparing for a world where people live to 100 and nutritional supplements. Merck, having divested its consumer business, with such drugs as Claritin and Afrin, to Bayer two years ago, now focuses on nutritional supplements, led by Seven Seas—a major player in Europe and the Commonwealth countries. Certainly Merck wouldn't mind if the prospect of a longer life led people to take its probiotics at younger ages to gird their digestive and immune systems for a healthier future. But Mr. Cansun said We100 is truly about preparing society for a new reality of people living longer.
"Even in Africa and rural places in Southeast Asia, life expectancy has picked up by 30-plus years since the Second World War," he said. "But if you look at the bigger picture of how institutions and government and the healthcare industry are adjusting to it, it's quite appalling."
Merck surveyed 2,000 people age 18 to 89 in the U.K. and Germany and found most people expect their lives to hit a crescendo at 50, then start heading downhill in terms of health, career prospects and other areas. He said 80% of respondents globally believe society broadly needs to change its attitude toward the elderly, and more than 90% feel kids aren't well prepared by educational institutions to prepare themselves for long and healthy lives.
Education systems are generally "a rat race preparing people to perform and outperform and create output—a sprint that ends with maybe a fat job at the end of college," he said. "But nobody actually takes the time to help kids know their bodies and what kind of lives they need to live to prepare them for that marathon, which may take up to 100 years."
We100 also aims to change attitudes about aging and employment, where its research found 80% of people believe they have diminished chances to advance or change careers after age 50.
While Merck Consumer Health has started We100 with backing from WPP's Ogilvy & Mather, Mr. Cansun said he intends to keep it neutral or unbranded, hoping to enlist participation from bigger players in a global health and pharmaceutical market where Merck is only ninth, as well as from government, education and elsewhere. That includes even such things as changing the ways governments view and talk about retirement ages—where any delay in benefit eligibility is usually considered to diminish benefits, yet people seldom talk about the need to keep people active in the workforce longer as their life spans grow.
He believes marketing can also do plenty to change, including hire older people to work on brands that appeal to older people. When he asked an audience at the Lions Health portion of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity for a show of hands for anyone over 80, he got, unsurprisingly, no response, but said he didn't see anyone even likely in their 60s.
And he believes, conversely, that healthcare marketing, geared largely toward treatment of older people with health problems, needs to focus more on younger people too. "It shouldn't just be about selling products," Mr. Cansun said. "It should be about selling products surrounded by education so kids can be aware of taking care of themselves."