Direct to Consumer: Making the Connection

Drug companies stir emotions to draw attention
Jul 01, 2006


AstraZeneca's Don Apruzzese addresses the audience at the 2006 PhAME Award ceremony, which honors excellence in pharmaceutical advertising and marketing.
Whether it's to promote a drug or help educate the masses, pharmaceutical manufacturers are creating advertising campaigns that tug at people's hearts to get the message out. Top honors at this year's PhAME (pharmaceutical advertising marketing excellence) Awards went to AstraZeneca for its "Sisters" campaign—an uplifting, non-branded advertisement that features breast cancer survivors educating other women about the potential for a relapse and how to avoid reoccurrence.

Pharm Exec sat down with Don Apruzzese, senior director, consumer marketing at AstraZeneca, and a PhAME executive committee member, and asked what it takes to make an award-winning campaign in an education-driven marketing climate. We also asked Apruzzese about emotion, and what part it plays in today's advertising landscape.

Pharm Exec: The Sisters campaign struck a nerve with a lot of patients. What elements of the campaign do you think really worked?

Apruzzese: Breast cancer is something that the public is very conscious of, and it is somewhat of an emotional topic to start with. So, you're starting with a really strong palette of colors that you can work with. I think the key was that the women cast were also actual breast cancer survivors. These were all women who were really involved and committed to helping other women who were going through the same experience. Some of them are involved in patient advocacy groups, and others are not. None of them were actresses. Part of the spot was scripted, but quite a bit of it was actually ad lib. A lot of the filming of the spot was focused on pulling out the personal stories and the personal emotion of the experience of not only going through having breast cancer, but surviving breast cancer.

Why did you chose to call the campaign Sisters?

We call it the Sisters campaign because the women in the ad feel as if they are a part of a community of breast cancer survivors, and there's a strong bond as a result. These women really communicated that very well. The spot starts off with an African-American woman reading a poem. And she wrote that poem—that was not scripted. We let her do that because, since they're not actresses, we needed to get them to feel comfortable in front of the camera. It's this technique and the way the director handled these women, that makes the viewer feel as if they are very sincere, that these were real women telling their story.

The use of emotion is becoming more prevalant in pharmaceutical advertising. What kinds of issues must marketers consider when using emotion?

In any type of consumer marketing, companies want to draw on a level of emotion, but the emotion has to be something that is relevant and sincere, or else it can fall very flat. Companies can even be seen as taking advantage of an emotional situation. We wanted to tap into the emotion in a very positive, uplifting way that's motivating. And unfortunately, if it's not done well, it can essentially be demotivating, and it can elicit a cynical response.

Going into the development of the campaign, what were the toughest issues to consider?

A lot of the debate was whether or not it should be an unbranded campaign, or whether we should have a product name associated with it. We chose to go with something that did not include the product name because we felt it was more important to approach it from a disease-awareness perspective, and that it would probably be much more credible and powerful if we did it that way. I think we made the right choice.