Unbranded disease awareness campaigns supported by pharmaceutical companies and non-profit health organizations have become
part of the standard marketing communications mix; their goal is usually to inform the public about a disease or condition
and drive patients and consumers to special Web sites, toll free numbers, and of course their healthcare providers. Certainly,
a more informed patient is preferable to a naive one, but is an information push, no matter how well or creatively packaged,
enough in today's crowded, skeptical market?
Disease awareness should be replaced in the healthcare marketing playbook with a new approach. Marketers need to reach beyond
awareness to activate the target audience—not merely broadcast to it. They need to create campaigns consumers and patients
want to be a part of, rather than just ask their doctors about.
It's time for a "movement."
Tap Unknown Territory
What exactly is a movement? It's the mobilization of people to advance a goal or cause. A movement has authenticity, makes
a powerful connection with its audience, and inspires action. A successful movement also has cultural relevance. For healthcare
marketers, a movement motivates behavior by going beyond "health" and tapping into something deeper in consumers' lives. The
time is ripe for a shift away from awareness campaigns.
A September 2008 article in BrandWeek noted that Big Pharma's spending on unbranded drug ads has dropped dramatically over the past two years, from $660 million
on health education and corporate image ads in 2006, to $341 million in 2007, to just $138 million in the first six months
of 2008. In the article, Nielsen Monitor-Plus cited the lack of effectiveness of unbranded awareness efforts in a competitive
environment for this significant decline in spending. While still standard, unbranded awareness efforts seem to be losing
their appeal as the centerpiece of a communications campaign. Even when well conceived, the best these efforts can do is move
the needle on awareness for all players. The value of these campaigns is limited, therefore, to the market leader.
Tough economic times call for a new approach. An examination of the Obama campaign, for example, provides some valuable lessons
on how a movement strategy can coax the undecided into action. Movement strategy, vocabulary, and platforms can all be employed
as tools to enhance patients' and consumers' feelings of authenticity about a campaign's messages and forge a closer bond
with the brand, the disease, the cause, and the sponsor.