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Pharma advertising. Copy and paste or compelling communication?

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    Pharma advertising. Copy and paste or compelling communication? Pharma advertising. Copy and paste or compelling communicati

    Pharma advertising. Copy and paste or compelling communication?

    By Tim Malone, HOD Grey Health | November 22, 2016

    I recently came across a website called badadgenerator.com. The site offers visitors the opportunity to “Design your very own healthcare campaign” - free of charge. It’s supposed to be funny, and it would be, except for the fact that just about every piece of health-related communication I’ve seen in the past few years looks like it was designed using this site. You know what I mean, happy patients running on the beach or staring wistfully at a sunset; the overused jigsaw puzzle pieces; juvenile drawings – anything from a stereotypical family to a pair of lungs, designed to tell doctors the product is for children; and my personal favourite – blue or green (and in the case of the eminently creative, blue and green) swooshes top and bottom of the page.

    It’s embarrassing to admit that this is what pharma advertising has become. But what really gets my blood pressure climbing is that so-called ‘specialist’ pharma agencies actually charge real money for this shlock when their clients could do it for themselves, online, for free!

    Could it be that there’s a widespread belief that the rules which govern advertising in other business sectors do not apply to pharma? “But pharma is different from other advertising” I hear you say. “We are logical and science-based, and our customers make objective decisions after weighing up risks and benefits, and we are governed by strict legislation”. Yes, that’s true, but how is this any different from the banking or insurance industries where terms and conditions apply to everything, and investing is a rational decision?

    I’m not advocating ignoring the science – that’s clearly important. But, the truth is, scientific facts and legislation are no excuse for lousy advertising. Healthcare decision makers - HCPs and patients alike - are first and foremost human beings and as such, are influenced by non-rational factors which advertisers can, and should, leverage. As the great Bill Bernbach said, “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

    If you need scientific proof, look no further than research from The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA, 2010), which reveals that creatively awarded brands achieve better sales performance than brands that don’t win awards. And an analysis of ads from the past 30 years showed that the most effective campaigns had little or no rational content but were based on powerful, emotion-based brand reminders. Why these lessons have not filtered through to pharma is beyond me.

    There is some extraordinary work being produced in the healthcare space such as the “Life Saving Dot” campaign (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sclg_AfGzcE) and “The Salt You Can See” work (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEra6jOLqK8) from Grey Singapore and Grey Argentina respectively. These are rare examples of the type of unconventional thinking sorely lacking in traditional pharma marketing and advertising.

    As ad agencies, we need to provide evidence of the benefits of creativity in terms that our clients will acknowledge. We need to shift our focus from short-term, uninspiring tactical promotions to strategically compelling campaigns. Above all, we need to produce remarkable work that helps make our clients’ brands famous.

    I firmly believe that it’s the agency’s responsibility to produce work that goes beyond the brief; work that is creatively, strategically and scientifically outstanding. Isn’t that what clients are paying us for?

    Reference: IPA 2010, The Link Between Creativity and Effectiveness (updated 2011). http://bit.ly/1RFYn

    Tim Malone’s bio:

    Tim has over 30 years advertising experience working as a creative director and more recently in strategic planning and account management. He has worked in South Africa, London and the Middle East at some of the world’s leading agencies and has won a number of awards in both international and local competitions, including Rx Club of New York, Loeries, IPA Best of Health Awards (UK), South African Medical Association/IMM and Clio Healthcare Awards.

    Tim has extensive Healthcare experience, starting at BBDO Medical in Johannesburg and then in London at Paling Ellis KPR. On his return to South Africa in the late 1980s, Tim was appointed as Creative Director and board member at Grey Healthcare, a position he held for five years. In 1992, Tim opened his own agency, specializing in healthcare and worked with Sanofi-Sythélabo, Roche, Boehringer-Mannheim and Reckitt-Benckiser.

    The agency was sold in 2000 and Tim spent two years in the Middle East developing campaigns for Pfizer, Roche, GSK and Novartis. As a result of the Gulf War, Tim returned to South Africa and worked in healthcare advertising for a further five years before studying for a Masters Degree in Leading Innovation and Change. On completion of his degree, Tim decided to enter the field of education and until his recent appointment as HOD Grey Health, Tim lectured advertising, marketing and brand management at both Diploma and Honours Degree levels.

    Tim is an accomplished public speaker and has presented at many corporate and public events including the SA Innovation Summit and at the University of Limpopo.

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