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Defending pharma and health director-to-consumer advertising is a top 2016 priority for the 4A’s industry trade group. Mollie Rosen reports.
Healthcare and pharmaceutical advertising is a litmus test for the rest of us in the industry. Highly regulated as the sector is, you could easily argue that it’s the hardest kind of advertising to do. It may also be the most rewarding.
Advertisers tend to view their work in healthcare and pharmaceuticals as some of the most meaningful of their careers because they’re being given the opportunity to, in some cases, have a huge impact in people’s lives. The gravity of their position is why so many pharmaceutical companies call on advertising agencies that are well-versed in the art and law of healthcare advertising. For those advertising professionals who market direct to physicians, their challenge is especially significant, as they are marketing to one of the most educated populations possible. But whether director-to-doctor or direct-to-consumer, it takes experience and expertise-and no small amount of perseverance -to manage these challenges while bringing results. Those who do it and do it well are some of the industry’s most masterful storytellers.
As healthcare communications and advertising have become more mainstream, they have also become more comprehensive. Healthcare agencies are no longer specializing solely in Rx, OTC, medical devices, or even animal health. Because patients and caregivers want products and services that get results, much of the agency focus is on telling the stories that achieve these results. Have a look at some of the work taking home trophies from the Cannes Lions Health Festival, which heralds the “life-changing creativity” of those in the industry, and you’ll see that the stories being told are those that could change the world. As the world could use some changing right about now, life-changing creativity is especially resonant with today’s consumers and award-givers.
This year, to better celebrate the creativity and contributions of those in the healthcare communications space, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) has added a health and wellness category to its second annual Partner Awards, which celebrates the creativity that brings unlikely partners together to make surprising new things.
Speaking of unlikely partners, as health agencies focus more on consumer campaigns, they are finding they have more in common with their peers at general market advertising agencies and seeing the ways they can benefit from their expertise. Likewise, general market agencies have much to learn from the health agencies, which are so often trendsetters when it comes to creative technologies like virtual reality. This is just one of the reasons the 4A’s is actively welcoming new health agency members; another reason is that we see that health agencies may need our support now more than ever. Just lastmonth we saw the American Medical Association demand a ban on pharma’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising-complaining that marketing budgets are fueling demand that is pushing drug costs up inappropriately.
The 4A’s has long defended health agencies. We were a founding member of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication in 1991, and today we count many of the biggest, best, and most groundbreaking health agencies among our members. Just last year we welcomed the largest independent medical advertising agency in the world, AbelsonTaylor, into membership. We have a government regulations committee, and much of the legislation and lobbying that we do on behalf of the industry is for the health agencies. Of course a lot of our general market agencies also do pharmaceutical work, or for hospitals and related industries.
Much of our efforts in D.C. in 2016 are going to be about fighting the potential ban on pharmaceutical ads. We have beaten it back in the past when it has come up, and we will work to do so again and to lobby for the role of advertising in this industry. As it shapes up to become an issue in the 2016 US presidential race, it’s going to be a top agenda item for us.
Mollie Rosen is EVP, Agency Relations and Membership at the 4A’s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org