Marketing to Professionals: Everyone's a Comedian

An ad campaign doesn't have to be "ha-ha" funny to sell a drug, but it doesn't hurt.
Apr 01, 2007

Joleen Schultz
We all enjoy a good laugh. So why is humor so obviously missing in the pharma marketing regimen? We all respond to a gecko selling car insurance, a duck selling life insurance, and unemployed sheep loitering outside the bedroom window. We laugh, we remember, and we buy the products. Why do we feel we must leave our levity at the door when we reach our office?

The answer is that the idea of using humor may make us uneasy. The judicious use of humor can reinforce the key message, be in alignment with the brand image, and be relevant to the objective. However, it requires a deep understanding of a product's core benefit to the physician, a concise value proposition, and the confidence for pharma companies to step outside the advertising norm.

Halozyme Therapeutics dabbled in barnyard humor with its Cumulase ad campaign, which caught the attention of fertility doctors.
Branding in the pharma industry historically has been on the conservative side. Companies have relied on scientific data and clinical progress as a backdrop for branding. However, pharmaceutical companies today face a series of significant challenges, including increasing competition against generic products and a dwindling pipeline, which require thinking and acting differently to maximize a drug's potential and relevance beyond patent expiry. Humor may be the right form of creativity to cause audiences to connect with and develop a loyalty for your brand.

This article is intended to open your mind to the possibility of using humor in branding and to provide some guidelines to get you started.

What is Funny?

Physicians are bombarded with sales reps, sales slicks, sales premiums, and more data than a college statistics class. Marketers must look for new ways to grab physicians' attention. We all know that people respond to emotion. Unfortunately, we forget that humor can evoke especially strong emotions that strike both personal and universal chords. Incorporating humor into branding can create a positive perception of approachability, honesty, and realness.

However, it's not as easy as it looks.

You must be careful to not lose the message in your quest for a humorous campaign. Consider humor the vehicle to deliver the message, not the message itself. We can all name commercials that are funny, but we can't always recall the names of the products. The closer the punch line aligns with your value proposition, the more effective the branding effort.

In addition to entertaining us, humor in branding must evoke a response. Therefore, the humor must relate directly to your product if you want to be remembered.

Road Map to a Laugh

Following are some guidelines for incorporating humor into a branding campaign.

  • Explore the humanistic side of the product benefits. Is there a setting or routine that individuals will readily relate to?
  • Be sensitive to the seriousness of the condition your product addresses. Humor works extremely well with lifestyle drugs, such as those that treat depression and sleeplessness.
  • Carefully consider the cultural sensitivities of a global audience in your marketing efforts—humor might not always translate. Yet there are many concepts that have universality: puppies, babies, and talking animals.

In all instances, the comedic payoff must have a strong tie to the product benefit. If the professional audience cannot immediately make the connection to the primary product benefit, the campaign is not going to be effective.

The use of humor or the degree of emphasis must be evaluated in relation to the communication vehicle. Humor can be especially effective in direct-mail efforts, where strong visual elements and impactful type can draw recipients' attention and save the mailer from hitting the wastebasket. On the other hand, the character should have a supporting role in more scientifically-oriented sales pieces.

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