Direct to Consumer: Making the Connection - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Direct to Consumer: Making the Connection
Drug companies stir emotions to draw attention


Pharmaceutical Executive


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.

How do you think the industry's attitude toward unbranded advertising is changing?

There's a general school of thought that only the market leader should do the unbranded campaign. I don't subscribe to that notion because it depends on what you're trying to do with the ad. If a company is truly committed to driving better understanding about the disease, and is approaching it in a credible way that results in a very positive response from the general public, then that approach can have a positive impact on product sales as well—whether the company is the leader or not.

The industry is getting better at developing integrated campaigns. How does this fit in with the companies moving dollars to the Web?

If you look at any of the campaigns that you saw at PhAME, they all have a URL to go to, or a phone number to call. And even if it's branded, there's a tremendous amount of information there.

We found in other research that consumers actually will go to the manufacturer's Web site for more information. One of the really powerful purposes of television is to raise awareness about other places patients can go to get the information they need so they can make informed decisions. Any company that thinks that it can communicate in a 60-second commercial enough information for a consumer to make a decision on treatment is fooling themselves. Consumers are much more engaged in finding information, and it's important for them to be able to easily find that information. I think TV plays a role, but it may evolve over time.

How do you see unbranded advertising changing in the future?

You'll probably see more unbranded advertising from different manufacturers. And it might evolve, depending upon the objective. Drug companies view television as a very efficient and quick way to raise awareness and they can use TV to drive viewers to other places, especially the Internet, for a more thorough conversation. I think we'll see it move in that direction.

All advertising, to some degree, has a level of emotion that engages the viewer to take an action. And in many cases, this will be an action to seek more information, either from the Web or from their physician. But more and more, we'll see people heading towards the Web or the telephone. But we will always encourage them to talk to their physician.

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