It seems like the industry is gravitating toward a wider, more holistic definition of health these days. Would you agree?
Absolutely. Over the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have been very focused on disease states, talking to consumers about their high cholesterol or if they're diabetic. We don't talk to diabetics about the fact that they're diabetic anymore. We talk to them like they're people with a lot of concerns in their lives; being diabetic or having high cholesterol is just one aspect of their life. So there has been a huge, but gradual shift.Has that been a difficult adjustment for people working in the industry?
I remember, as a client, being hyper-focused on the product. When you're in the industry, and you're over-researched and over-stimulated and overeducated on that one thing, you forget that consumers are not over-researched, overeducated, or over-stimulated. Their disease is only one aspect of their life. The more progressive marketers understand, but for others it's a little harder to shift out of the manufacturer mode.
You can see how different marketers use different approaches. The pharma folks are becoming more like the marketers of over-the-counter drugs, who are becoming more like the marketers of consumer packaged goods. [It's all] more consumer-centric, which I think helps that mindset.
Is this approach effective today? What about for the future?
It's absolutely the right approach, because of the way the healthcare system has evolved. People are much more responsible for their own health than they used to be. I think that's part generational, part situational. It's much more up to consumers now to do their own research and have knowledge about what is going on in their bodies, so they can have a productive dialogue and relationship with their doctor. People are more in charge of their own health these days, so they're looking for more information.
Could you share an example of some advertising that exemplifies where companies should be going?
I worked on the new Tylenol campaign when I had my own agency. It's so fabulous because it's not pushing pills—although at the end of the day I'm sure they're trying to increase their sales. [The ad campaign] goes across the entire franchise of their product, from Children's Tylenol to Tylenol Arthritis to Tylenol PM to all the cold and flu products. And it's all about being consumers, so it gives consumers these tidbits of information—not pushing pills, but saying, you know, "There's a lot you could be doing for your health and wellness, and by the way, we're here to help."
Do you see pharmaceutical companies being able to pull something like that off?
Yes. Pharma companies deal with much stricter regulations, obviously, and because our claims are much more substantial, there's more responsibility that comes with talking about the product and the side effects. So we have a lot more constraints to deal with in terms of how we communicate with consumers. For us to do a billboard ad is probably not realistic, because we can't make a claim that quickly, and we have to explain side effects. There's more depth to the communication. But conceptually, we could absolutely be going in that direction; a little less scientific, a little more practical; a little bit more about the whole person, not just the specific disease.