Direct to Consumer: Emotional Connection - Pharmaceutical Executive


Direct to Consumer: Emotional Connection
By reaching out to women, pharma companies can build more meaningful brands

Pharmaceutical Executive

The campaign's positive focus on maintaining good health, versus simply avoiding disease, makes it effective. Convincing patients—women or men—to start or adhere to preventive pharmaceuticals is challenging. But behavioral psychologists believe that a "gain" message of staying healthier, like the AstraZeneca message, has a better chance of succeeding.

Invitation to Share

Merck has extended an invitation for women to share information about HPV (human papilloma virus) and to help other women prevent cervical cancer. In its television ad campaign for the generic HPV cervical-cancer vaccine Gardsil, "Tell Someone," women, many with their arms around their daughters, express their surprise at discovering the viral link of HPV to cervical cancer. In the ad, women encourage other women to tell someone they love about it.

The broadcast and print campaign also includes events in which celebrities like Maria Shriver and Elizabeth Rohm have participated. As part of the campaign, Shriver and Rohm publicly wore bracelets with the "Making the Link" logo, which helped generate buzz about the campaign.

Visitors to, Merck's Web site for Gardsil, will find a hip and inviting layout, with links to personal stories from a diverse group of women explaining how they discovered the HPV–cancer connection. E-cards, which can be sent with customized messages, are offered on the site to help visitors spread the word about HPV's role in causing cervical cancer.

Authenticity Counts

The recently launched brand-awareness campaign for MGI Pharma's Aloxi (palonosetron), which treats chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, strikes a chord of authenticity that is missing in many DTC campaigns. It depicts a breast cancer patient who has lost her hair from chemotherapy—an extremely vulnerable time for any oncology patient

In an approach that might have scared away more timid marketers, the Aloxi campaign reflects both the ups and downs of chemotherapy treatment. In the ads, patients and caregivers share their stories, and admit feeling tired from treatment one day and being happy to be with family or friends the next. That sharing of both positive and negative feelings creates trust with female patients.

By including realistic emotions, the campaign creates a conversation similar to one a woman would have with a friend. Depicting a woman who is not afraid to be seen without her hair further enhances the "voice of truth" within the ad.

The Aloxi brand invites breast cancer patients to reveal their real strength, like the women in the campaign, and share their own personal stories. The campaign creates an emotional bond that makes the product's anti-nausea benefit resonate with its target audience.

The Merck, AstraZeneca, and MGI Pharma campaigns all include online virtual communities, where women feel comfortable and welcome. They all create a sense of dialogue—not monologue—and advocacy—not promotion. Through the sharing of personal stories, creating sisterhood, and offering intimacy, these campaigns demonstrate an understanding of how women communicate with one another, offering a brand invitation to which women want to respond.

Marcee Nelson is executive creative director of GSW Worldwide and the founder of Pink Tank. She can be reached at


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