Marketing to Professionals: Everyone's a Comedian - Pharmaceutical Executive


Marketing to Professionals: Everyone's a Comedian
An ad campaign doesn't have to be "ha-ha" funny to sell a drug, but it doesn't hurt.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Humorous campaigns have a relatively short life. Marketers must continually refresh their approach to keep the audience's interest. This can be through a change in setting, new characters, different situations, etc.

Test your concept before launching it. Brainstorm within your core marketing group. Ask trusted physicians for their opinion. Test it in focus groups. If the audience doesn't see the humor or get the message, then the joke is on you.

Avoid certain topics in the branding of a pharma product. Don't rely on politics, religion, race, or anything risqué to garner attention. If you have to explain or apologize for the joke, the campaign is a failure.

Most importantly, have the confidence to step outside the norm. A targeted, humorous campaign will attract attention more quickly. This can be especially beneficial for a smaller pharmaceutical company or a company with a modest budget.

Barnyard Humor

Halozyme Therapeutics needed to grab attention and convey its product's key benefits—fast. So it took a gamble with a little barnyard humor when it launched Cumulase into the US and European infertility markets. Cumulase, a recombinant human enzyme, can replace bovine and ovine animal-derived hyaluronidases used to prepare eggs for certain IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedures. Cumulase provides a safer, purer, and more reliable alternative to bovine and ovine slaughterhouse-derived extracts. So the company chose the tagline "Safer. Purer. No Bull"—a short, catchy phrase that served as an inside joke with fertility doctors, who understood the correlation between the catch phrase and the product.

Halozyme didn't stop there. An expressive cartoon bull was developed as the product mascot. The bull image was incorporated into direct mail, print advertising, booth graphics, and a poster (at the request of lab directors) for physicians' offices—there was even a stuffed bull adorned with a Cumulase T-shirt as a tchotchke at conferences. This memorable bull enabled the company to quickly build brand recognition and communicate the key benefit of its product. However, the company did not rely solely on humor to deliver the message. In all instances, the clever tagline and memorable image was backed by clinical data.

Dual Functionality

As more attention is paid to DTC branding, marketers are looking for ways to build a single, compelling brand among physicians and patients. This two-for-one branding effort reduces creative development costs and leads to a stronger, more cohesive brand image.

Consider the Mucinex brand. The Mucus family is a classic example of building a consistent brand image among physicians, pharmacists, and patients. Mucinex products are designed to break up the mucus causing congestion so that patients can cough it up more easily. To hammer the point home, the company created the tagline "Mucinex in. Mucus Out."

In the field, the sales reps build brand awareness and drive product adoption by delivering an in-office detail binder featuring the Mucus family members and their corresponding products. The lighthearted campaign is supported by study data and claims.

The crossover into the patient audience begins with representatives providing physicians with in-office discount coupons featuring the not-so-friendly Mucus character and the descriptive tagline. Shelf talkers featuring the Mucus family and providing product information on the Mucinex family of products are left in the physician's lobby.

Branding is promoted even further by providing product information with a special mail-in rebate at the point of purchase in the pharmacy. This campaign was well received by physicians and pharmacists who believe that the endearing Mucus family members have aided in patient acceptance of the product and even enhanced patient compliance.

The branding campaign is also flexible enough to address product extensions, including Mucinex DM, Mucinex D, and Children's Mucinex, where the characters' ages and situations are modified to more closely align with the product.

Punch Line

The trend for using humor in pharmaceutical branding is beginning. Will humor work in your pharmaceutical branding efforts? Absolutely—if it can make an emotional connection with your audience and if it reinforces your key product benefit. We know humor can definitely get attention. So lighten up and have some fun with your next campaign.

Joleen Schultz is principal and national practice leader, life science at Mentus. She can be reached at


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