Between the constant push for more government regulation of drug marketing and the conservative nature of the industry, the fast-paced world of pharmaceutical advertising doesn't seem too glamorous. But for one night every year, dozens of agencies and pharma companies take a walk down the red carpet to honor their peers at the annual PhAME Awards. Pharm Exec talked to some of the winners and industry insiders to take the current pulse of consumer advertising and find out what it takes to make an award-winning DTC ad.
Q: What does it take to make an award-winning DTC ad?
A: Israel Rodriguez, chairman and cofounder of the PhAME Awards
All outstanding marketing efforts have three things in common: a well-defined strategy, focused targeting of consumers' needs and wants, and creative and support elements to make them compelling. What distinguishes pharmaceutical marketing most is its discipline regarding strategy. Pharmaceutical marketers tend to be far more rigorous and specific with their marketing objectives, like building awareness, increasing disease-state education, or encouraging compliance. The most effective communication strategies are specific in their objective and focused on just one or two communication priorities to achieve that objective. Pharmaceutical marketers are better than most at staying focused on a core communication priority. These communication-strategy principles are common to all good marketing, and pharmaceutical marketers have become particularly adept.
Q: What was your favorite DTC campaign this past year, and why did it move you?
A: Julie Holcombe, senior marketing manager, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals
Merck and Schering's print and TV campaign for Vytorin [in which the sources of cholesterol are discussed] was, creatively, one of the most clever I've seen in a while. With a category that is largely asymptomatic, getting people to pay attention can be tricky. However, Vytorin's use of copy that gets right to the point, combined with visuals that are engaging, humorous, and relatable, really comes off well. The result is that they've been able to take a potentially difficult-to-understand mechanism of action and translate it into a very simple, straightforward, and clean message that is recognizable and fun. Also, I loved that this execution gave them the flexibility for a campaign series—a string of food/family combinations that allowed them to reach deep into their patient population while keeping audiences wanting even more. Kudos to the product-management and agency teams!
Q Why do we see so few innovative DTC campaigns in pharma advertising?
A: Fabio Gratton, cofounder and chief innovation officer, Ignite Health
It's much easier to look at compounds and drug classes that have already worked and bring similar drugs to market. The same is true for marketing. No one will ever lose their job for doing what everyone else has done before and failing; but they can almost guarantee their demise should they try something new and fail. In our industry, the risk-takers tend to be the smaller biotech companies or start-up agencies that are looking to make a big impact in a crowded marketplace. Those companies may not have the budgets to fight the Goliaths of their industry, so they use innovation as a strategy to break through, differentiate, and ultimately create a competitive advantage. However, I believe that organizations that do not foster a culture of innovation run the risk of becoming extinct in the long run. You can think of it as business Darwinism.