Direct to Consumer: Q&A with Mark Spellman and Loreen Babcock

Operation Fear Factor
Mar 01, 2007
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

The TV spot begins on an ominous note. "This time last year, Jack was diagnosed with high cholesterol." Zoom to an empty chair surrounded by family members sharing a holiday dinner. "He thought he was fine. He wasn't."

Unit 7's Mark Spellman and Loreen Babcock say when it comes to using emotion in advertising, fear plus hope is the most effective formula.
Sure sounds depressing. But don't worry: Jack is fine. He was just in the kitchen carving a turkey.

Turns out ads like this one—for, an unbranded campaign for Lipitor (atorvastatin)—are so effective because they tug at the heart strings of consumers. Agencies are now hoping to leverage this approach by tapping behavioral psychologists to instill fear, hope, and humor in their ads—though the results have not all been as stellar as the Lipitor spot, which was created by Unit 7.

Loreen Babcock
Pharmaceutical Executive sat down with CEO and chairwoman, Loreen Babcock, and Mark Spellman, director of research and behavior psychology, to learn the secret to Unit 7's success—and how the rest of the industry can better reach patients and caregivers.

How should companies gauge the level of emotion to use in advertising?

SPELLMAN: Companies should be modulated. We know from public health campaigns that the formula that works best is fear plus hope.

The most successful messaging in the history of public health was directly emotional. There was an HIV campaign a while back where literally the specter of death—the grim reaper—is shown at the beginning of the ad: a direct, honest, emotional confrontation that communicates that what's at stake is life and death. And the answer—the hope—is HIV testing.

I'm not saying you should bring the grim reaper into a cholesterol ad—but the point is that the ad was very emotional, with a direct appeal both to fear and to hope.

How does Unit 7 tie emotion into its DTC campaigns?

The TV spot for Lipitor hints that the empty chair at Thanksgiving dinner was vacated by a deceased patient. But fear not—the chair's owner is actually in the kitchen, carving the bird.
BABCOCK: How we interpret emotion creatively is based on the insights we're working with. For example, with the cholesterol category—a fairly mature one—it was a big challenge for us to understand what we were going to do differently to bring even more people into a market that's been using the same stimuli for a number of years. We took a a little bit riskier approach that in a subtle way gave the consumer a moment of pause.

You're talking about the unbranded Lipitor campaign, right?

SPELLMAN: Yes. The ad starts out at a Christmas dinner, and there's an empty chair shown at the beginning—the point being that the head of the table is vacant.

BABCOCK: The empty chair gives the viewer that moment of understanding that it could be them who is not there one day. Our job was to get people to reassess—either that what they're currently doing may be wrong or that they are doing nothing at all.

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