Pharma marketing is an ever-changing industry. It's a domino effect: technology evolves, the drugs themselves evolve, and consequently, the way agencies market them must evolve as well. The Rx Club Awards, founded in 1986 by Ina and Carveth Kramer, showcases the best of the best in pharma marketing across all mediums, including print, television, and online.
The Rx Awards got its start 24 years ago, when Ina Kramer was an artist rep in the healthcare industry and her (late) husband was a creative director in the magazine business. The pair noticed that there was no awards show dedicated solely to the healthcare marketing industry that focused on 100 percent creativity—rather than on market success of the ad or product—and so the Rx Awards came to be born. "Year after year it grew," says Ina Kramer. "And without any advertising, we grew international. People found us, and it snowballed, and it just happened by itself ... agencies that we didn't even know came to us."
Fast forward to today, and even with all the new technology abundant in marketing, tried-and-true techniques (included print advertising) still seem to be the recipe for success. Judges and contestants alike are still looking for that one special element that can dazzle, intrigue, inspire—that can wow their audience—be it patient- or physician-based. "I think that while digital mediums are much more important now, at the end of the day, it's still all about the idea," confirms one of this year's judges, Christian Bauman, chief creative officer at Health4Brands Chelsea. "It doesn't matter whether it's a print ad, or something on TV, or something on the Internet ... it's still about a conceptual idea, and you either have a good one or you don't."
Another judge, Leah Snyder, art director at The Cementbloc, recognizes that in these tech-trendy times, new technology alone does not make for a successful ad. "It's about new modes of transportation, be it new technology or recycling old technology in a refreshing way. That's what's appealing and also what's different between advertising now and advertising five years ago. It's a fine line, because it's not necessarily using new technology for new technology's sake, but doing it and doing it in a successful way."
Though more than 40 judges turn out each year from different companies, different states, and even different countries, they all have at least one thing in common: they are part of the healthcare advertising community, and so have hands-on experience creating the same kinds of ads they are judging for the show. They know a good ad when they see it, and they know what they are looking for.
Snyder also weighs in on what it takes to adapt ads for digital formats. "I think it depends on what the ad is and what the medium is," she says. "I think if it was essentially repackaging, print would probably have gone away. Some things are better in one place and some things are better in another, so in order for something to truly go across all platforms I think it does need to be repurposed, having it make sense for where it ultimately lives."
Finally, John Nosta, executive vice president and chief creative officer of Ferguson, part of Ogilvy CommonHealth, explains what he was looking for during judging and what he thinks would constitute a winning entry. "I think that first and foremost it should be visually compelling. It should make me want to look, and perhaps make me want to know more," says Nosta. "What differentiates fine art from commercial art is that commercial art has a business objective behind it. We want these ads to drive behaviors. Does it make me go 'hmmm'; does it offend me; does it entice me; does it intellectually intoxicate me? I want to feel that there's a connection between the communication and me."
Pharm Exec also got a chance to speak with some of this year's winners about their experience with the Rx Club Awards and about creativity in the industry overall. Ultimately, the winners were those who, like the judges, recognize the value of retaining certain constants and standards in a changing landscape. "In our industry, the more things change the more that we, as marketers, need to focus on the one thing that shouldn't—and that's leading with the big idea and making that idea grow," says Bruce Rooke, chief global creative officer of GSW Worldwide, which received one Silver and two Gold awards in this year's competition. "Despite the regulations and strict guidelines imposed on the pharmaceutical industry, excellent creative work continues to be produced, which is a testament to the commitment and talent that feeds off those industry challenges. We believe in the big idea because the big idea produces results under the trying and restricted conditions of our industry."
Joe Renzler, Creative Director at LXB Health, which won a Silver award for its print Synagis Sydney Campaign, thinks the wow factor lies in an ad's relationship to its audience. "Advertising—pharma and otherwise—should excite people, move them. Make them laugh, smile, dream, hope. The Sydney campaign generated tremendous response. It excited us, creating a character and a world in which vital information about a serious disease could be shared in a warm, non-fear-inducing environment," he says. "I'm personally proud to have the opportunity to help take this brand to the next level in the upcoming season."
"We approach every creative opportunity with the same passion—whether it is a treatment for osteoporosis or a treatment to prevent fleas and parasites in cats," says June Laffey, creative director of McCann Healthcare Sydney—winner of a Gold award for its Rational Explanation ad. Laffey is yet another cog in the pharma marketing machine who recognizes the value of a creative idea that can transcend new technologies and mediums. "It's not about doing healthcare advertising—its about coming up with ideas that are relevant; ideas that work. Only by working together with good clients and pushing the boundaries creatively can we expect to continue to produce work that stands out and gets noticed," she says.
While the wow factor that the judges—and the competitors—are hunting for may remain the Old Faithful of pharma marketing, many things about the competition itself have changed over the years, evolving with modern technology. "We started as a print show because that's basically what my husband and I knew," says Kramer. "And we grew and added video, and then people were anxious to do websites ... We add whatever else is needed for the growth of the show."
The carefully selected judges, the focus on creativity, and the willingness to embrace the future (while retaining the core elements from the past), have together proven to be the recipe for a show that recognizes the artistic talent behind so much of what we in the industry may take for granted. "It really displays what the year is about," says Kramer. "It's almost like a catalog of the work that's been done in the past year."
As the Rx Club continues to archive the best of the best behind healthcare marketing, Pharm Exec is preparing to archive the show itself. Next year, the Rx Club Awards will turn 25, and we'll take a look back at a quarter century of the best ads pharma has to offer and the award show that recognizes those achievements.
Here's to another year of health, and to healthcare marketing.