Activate Your Audience - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Activate Your Audience

Pharmaceutical Executive


Memorable Movements

The first successful movement in our healthcare memory was for HIV/AIDS. The movement, which began in the early 1980s, was best symbolized by the red ribbon, a simple icon that demanded more from its audience than passive understanding of a deadly disease. Consumers were compelled to take action. For some, that meant a behavioral change; for others, a change in the level of attention; and for all, a change in attitude. The red ribbon created instant identification among participants. It signaled a sense of like-mindedness among people from all walks of life, and a feeling of that didn't previously exist for HIV/AIDS.

The ribbon was quickly taken up by breast cancer advocates. Among the many efforts to mobilize a range of audiences around this women's issue, Nancy Brinker, the woman behind the Susan G. Komen Foundation, was most successful at creating a movement with a unique identity. The Foundation's centerpiece, The Race for the Cure, gave women frustrated by the lack of attention to breast cancer research a productive outlet for their energy. The Race for the Cure remains successful at galvanizing women and partner corporations around a single cause.

Recognizing the marketing upside of such a campaign, Nike and Lance Armstrong teamed up in 2004 to create the LIVESTRONG initiative for cancer, symbolized by the yellow wristband. Like the red and pink ribbons, the yellow, rubberized, one-dollar LIVESTRONG bracelets became an easy, affordable way for people to demonstrate respect, support, and empathy for cancer survivorship. The results? People bought over 70 million wristbands. LIVESTRONG has been successful enough for Nike and Lance Armstrong to extend it with the introduction of a LIVESTRONG Collection of apparel, footwear, and accessories for men, women, and kids—a branded movement for the whole family.

In 2007, Pfizer dipped its toe in the movement waters after realizing that its investment in traditional disease awareness built around the Lipitor brand wasn't breaking through to the target audience of Americans over 40. The company's solution was to tap into the collective memory of the audience and unite them around this critical health cause. Pfizer's Boomer Coalition used a '60s-type manifesto and iconography to create a generational movement.

The campaign—comprised of a series of communications tactics including advertising, events, and guerilla, PR, and viral activities—aimed to motivate the boomer generation to sit up and take notice of a disease they didn't necessarily identify with. The result: 360 million impressions delivered at a fraction of the cost of a traditional media program, PR value estimated at over $20 million, 9 million Web hits in the first six months, 35,000 people mobilized and involved in campaign activities—all exceeding Pfizer's goals of creating relevance for cardiovascular disease and supporting the sales environment for Lipitor with more effective ROMI than previous traditional marketing efforts.

Spark Your Movement

How can pharma marketers spark a movement that will support their brands? Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Determine the activists and drivers behind your movement The easiest way to do this is to identify a group that has both a strong business value to your brand (e.g., a need based on already diagnosed co-morbidities, dissatisfaction/failure with current therapy) and a discontent with one or more parts of the current discussion or activities within the disease state. For example, with the pink ribbon breast cancer movement, there was an emerging group of vocal, health-conscious women who felt powerless to help their mothers, sisters, aunts, and friends who were falling victim to breast cancer. The medical establishment didn't seem to be doing enough about it, and the group proved to be an important "activist" base for the seeding and growth of the area.
  • Identify a "basis for participation" with your brand or program Determine what outcome you and your activist base want to achieve, what difference you can make in the world, and why people would want to participate in your effort to achieve that change. This basis for participation is the genesis for your movement.
  • Mobilize your activist base Have a central message that's easy to pass on (e.g., "get tested now" or "expect more results from X medicine"). In some movements, it takes the form of a symbol (a bracelet or ribbon), an action (attend this event, log onto this Web site, join this opt-in program) or simple words ("change" for Obama.) Keep in mind that with a movement approach, your aim isn't just to expose your activist base to information and stories you can place in the media—they are your media.
  • Have a mechanism in place to enhance the viral spread of your message Provide the tools that allow your audience to independently pass on the message to others: Web sites that provide online sharing tools, videos, and events they can invite others to attend. The end game is to build participation and message pass-along, not just awareness and knowledge.

Build Your Brand

Finally, there are several key questions pharma marketers should ask themselves when building movements:

WHO is my activist base?

WHAT is their dissatisfaction?

WHY would my program be able to help resolve this dissatisfaction? Why would they voluntarily participate?

WHAT message, symbol, or ritual will crystallize your movement's purpose?

HOW will my activist base replicate and spread the message/symbol?

NAME your movement

Pharma marketing stands at a crossroads between old and new paradigms. Starting a movement represents a strong advancement in connecting with the world of patients and consumers. A movement approach differs from traditional marketing in that it creates a program around a meaningful topic that consumers want to participate in and spread, activating a consumer base rather than broadcasting to it.

But perhaps the most important difference is that movements, unlike most marketing support, only work when they are based on a fundamental benefit for society. Thus, in a sense, a movement allows healthcare communications, like medicine, to become a helping profession, not only creating a point of difference for brands, but also creating purpose in the world.

We introduced equal rights and danced at Woodstock
We watched Neil Armstrong stroll across the Moon
We ushered in the sexual revolution
We gave birth to rock and roll
We even brought down the Berlin Wall
Will we be around to witness the next revolution?
— text from Pfizer's Boomer Coalition ad

Chip Walker heads the strategy practice at Strawberry Frog, a New York creative agency that specializes in sparking cultural movements. He can be reached at

Sandra Stahl is a partner in jacobstahl, an agency specializing in healthcare, well being, and consumer marketing communications. She can be reached at


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