Branding: Right Brain Research in a Left-Brained World

February 1, 2005
Skip Thurnauer

Successful Product Manager's Handbook

The very nature of pharmaceutical claims tends to make the industry's messages— and indeed its brands—very left-brain oriented. Think about the language used: "effective first-line monotherapy," "significantly higher response," "24-hour once-daily dosing," and the ever-popular "powerful relief." These stilted claims result partly from the regulatory environment and partly from the nature of the products.

The very nature of pharmaceutical claims tends to make the industry's messages— and indeed its brands—very left-brain oriented. Think about the language used: "effective first-line monotherapy," "significantly higher response," "24-hour once-daily dosing," and the ever-popular "powerful relief." These stilted claims result partly from the regulatory environment and partly from the nature of the products. Performance and clinical differences are measured by an alphabet of parameters—A1C, LDL-C, MMSE, HAQ, and GAD. Hard facts and data are needed to demonstrate the important clinical performance and safety profiles that characterize prescription drugs. But in today's crowded and competitive markets, in which those claims leave many brands undifferentiated or poorly differentiated, the emotional side of the brand may be of equal or greater importance than the data.

Trout and Reis define positioning as the place a brand occupies in the consumer target's mind. Emotional branding takes the brand to a deeper place, the target's heart. Emotional branding is about the "F" word: feelings. It's about how a brand affects the heart, the gut, and the brain. In Emotional Branding, author Daryl Travis suggests that it takes both the rational and emotional sides of a product benefit to help consumers distinguish one brand from another. The emotional response to a brand is tempered by facts, logic, and reasoning that help people rationalize their buying decisions.

Dr. Charles Kenny of Kenny & Associates (also known as The Right Brain People) says behavior takes its cue from information processed from both sides of the brain—the left side providing logic, language, intelligence and rationality; the right side centering on wants, needs, desires, and feelings. (See "Pharmaceutical Claims.") According to Kenny, the emotional drivers are the most important to marketers because they are the direct links to customer behavior.

The power of efficacy and the tenderness of tolerability are key messages introduced in Abbotts professional launch ad for Kaletra. So, the theme for doctors is clear: Kaletra is all about strength and tolerability.

Kaletra Case Study

In the HIV/AIDS market, Abbott's Kaletra (lopinavir/retonavir) is a brand that offers considerable rational and emotional benefits to physicians and patients. At launch, Kaletra was distinguished from other protease inhibitors (PIs) by its potent suppression of the HIV virus. It also boasted a high level of tolerability. The product's marketers wanted to communicate superior efficacy in a way that would resonate with both patients and physicians because the audiences in the HIV market are emotionally connected. Competitive promotion focused on the once-a-day feature, convenience, and improved adherence.

Although based on objective left-brain features and benefits, it seemed clear that Kaletra could continue to lead the PI segment. But logic and reason are not the only drivers, perhaps not even the primary drivers, in the HIV market. So the company and agency marketers consulted with Kenny, who proposed a series of interviews with physicians and patients to better understand the emotional and rational motivators behind HIV drug selection.

When Kenny described his methodology to Abbott's antiviral director Julie Fitzgerald and the Kaletra marketing team, they were somewhat skeptical about whether physicians would "play the game." It goes something like this: Pause for a moment and close your eyes. Think about where you were when you decided to embark on a career in healthcare. Visualize the sights, sounds, and feelings of the moment. During hour-long sessions, Kenny and his team of specially trained psychologists took physicians and patients to another place in time to help them get in touch with their emotions. Twenty-four physicians and 30 patients were willing to put on the blindfold and play along. The technique employs relaxation, repetition and visualization, and the results were fascinating.

Competing in a crowded market in which other products claims focused on convenient dosing, Abbotts emotional branding campaign linked Kaletra to the therapeutic goal of patients and physicians: undetectability.

The Struggle for Control

People living with HIV are no longer primarily motivated by the fear of dying from AIDS. But they quickly realize that HIV medications are powerful agents with a host of side effects and other possibly disruptive changes in their lives. They feel a loss of control and may compete with their physicians over who is in charge of their life. All HIV patients engage in some form of denial ("I don't feel sick"). They believe a healthy life can coexist with HIV, as long as the medications continue to suppress the virus, to keep it "undetectable" to themselves and others.

In the interviews some patients were extremely knowledgeable about their disease, but brand consciousness was relatively weak. Few patients were aware of the differentiating attributes of particular HIV medications, therefore not motivated by these differences.

Physicians' comments mirrored many of those from patients. One central theme was about control, particularly now that patients are living longer and without death hanging over their heads. Physicians today realize they are treating a chronic disease. Rationally, they accept that there is no cure for AIDS, but emotionally, they want to continue the struggle to eradicate the virus.

Daryl Travis, author of Emotional Branding, supports the idea that branding begins with the "F" word-feelings-but that people temper their emotional responses to brands with facts, logic, and reasoning to rationalize their buying decisions.

Because many patients no longer feel sick, physicians must find medications that minimize the disruption to the patient's lifestyle. Physicians often fear that giving authoritarian directions might drive patients away. The word "compliance" has been replaced with a friendlier and less directional word—"adherence"—implying patient cooperation. One physician commented, "You have to tailor your regimen to what the patient will take. There is a limit to how much you can scare or intimidate."

Suppression of the HIV virus is the goal, and key to achieving that end is patient adherence. Often, physicians choose treatments based on their perception of how well patients will accept and follow the regime rather than the potency of the drug. Physicians know that no matter how simple and tolerable treatments are, patients may still not adhere with therapy.

The exercise with the physicians continued into an exploration of different approaches to first-line treatment. With blindfolds removed, they were asked to discuss different routes to achieving successful viral suppression. Projective techniques were used to gain insight into the role of Kaletra and other antiretroviral agents. Kaletra emerged in the discussion as a very strong weapon, the heavy artillery.

The agency's true work began with a review of the research results. In a branding workshop, the Abbott marketing team, the Torre Lazur Chicago advertising team, Kenny, and Travis' Brandtrust group discussed the implications of the findings. The group used projective techniques in the workshop to generate powerful imagery that could be applied to various brand touchpoints for Kaletra and key competitive agents. From that, the group crafted a new brand promise for Kaletra, one that incorporated the knowledge gleaned from the patient and physician interviews.

New HIV Concept

The new advertising campaign was launched in the midst of considerable competitive noise. Most competitors continued to focus on the advantages of convenience and once-a-day regimens. Abbott's new Kaletra marketing campaign celebrated the moment when the patient learns that the goal of therapy has been achieved, when he learns that he is still "undetectable." The campaign introduced a new concept into HIV/AIDS communications, the true end game—"undetectability." The concept continues in Kaletra advertising and is also a component of medical education, public relations, and other communications. The competition has also discovered "undetectability," a word now seen in competitive promotion for other antiretrovirals, as well as for diagnostic products.

The Kaletra marketing team took a chance when they agreed to use such an unconventional approach to learning about the inner emotions that drive physicians and patients in their HIV decision making. But the IN-SIGHT approach reconfirmed many earlier observations and beliefs about target audiences. Right-brain research also took the team to a place it had not explored before: the heart. By better understanding the feelings of patients and physicians, it developed a new brand promise and an effective new advertising campaign that has helped Kaletra maintain its position as the number one protease inhibitor. Right-brain research is an effective consumer research tool that has considerable application in pharmaceuticals.

Editor's note: Abbott successfully marketed Kaletra for several years to both patient and physician audiences, and continues to do so. But it did experience a setback in October 2004, when DTC ads (that evolved from some of the research described in this article) drew the attention of DDMAC reviewers. The specific ads featured and campaign described here were not the subject of any regulatory action.

Skip Thurnauer is president and general manager of Torre Lazur Chicago. He can be reached at

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