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Doctors Are People Too: Communicating through Entertainment


Scott Freeman explains how advances in digital entertainment technology can be leveraged to engage healthcare professionals.

It’s hard to make illness look good. Creating a visually memorable and ultimately entertaining pharma campaign is among the biggest challenges faced by drug companies today. But it can be done, writes Scott Freeman.

Pharmaceuticals is a big business. Industry spend is predicted to reach a whopping $3.1 billion by 2020 as brands continue to battle for market dominance. On average, a third of revenue is set aside for ever-more elaborate treatment advertising, while only a twelfth is invested into R&D.

This in itself is not overtly shocking. Competition is the mark of an efficient market, offering more choice and lowering drug prices to the benefit of customers’ health. But who holds the real power in this mad scramble between brands?


The reason for this marketing outlay is simple. As prescribers of a treatment, healthcare professionals are the catalysts behind a huge portion of sales. Their opinion matters. It’s no wonder that doctors are the targets of constant messaging, bombarded with imagery and persuasive wordplay to promote a drug or procedure of choice.

Visual metaphor

Note that doctors are people before they are professionals – a vital consideration when creating visual content. Medical jargon and photoreal diagrams of anatomy won't cut it anymore. Instead, creatively envisioned visual metaphor is becoming the popular approach for pharmaceutical companies.

Case in point: a recent campaign for Abbott to promote its nutritious, organic brand image. Here, we helped model a countryside set entirely from fiber-based ingredients like broccoli, berries and satsumas, before bringing it to life via photography and stop motion animation (see below). This was used as a sweeping metaphor for diarrhoea medication with relaxing after effects. Doctor or no, viewers will understand the message at a glance – and in a much more memorable format to boot.

Essentially, the use of visual metaphor leads to greater message engagement in an industry bogged down with scientific jargon. Doctors can enjoy a brief respite from intensive workloads and academic research.

Mixed media

Digital advances have led to multiple methods of capturing a doctor’s attention – leveraging film, CGI, retouching, photography, animation, VR and beyond. In short, pharmaceutical marketing has become a mixed media beast.

This convergence of media can even inspire huge cultural shifts, which ripple across the pharma industry for professionals and patients alike. McCann Health helped create the most-awarded digital campaign in Asia, dramatically altering the public attitude toward giving blood through a simple app. Patients can post a message on Facebook saying that a friend needs blood. Via the associated app, a map shows the nearest clinic for anyone who replies that they want to give blood.

Digital-engagement technology has prompted a rewrite of the pharmaceutical playbook. This free exchange of information is open to everyone. Don't disregard it in an age when the world's first digital natives are entering med school.

Embracing digital entertainment

Pharmaceutical companies are thinking about different mediums and how they resonate with the treatment in question, all to present something that jumps off a screen, demanding the viewer's attention.

A key challenge here is to balance budget with creative prowess – especially in a world where every organisation is a publisher, all outreach is personalized, and content is constantly in demand. Integrated approaches to production are taking over.

There are ways to be smart about production costs by sourcing photographers, directors and app developers through a single service provider. When dealing with multiple digital channels and platforms, it is critical we find cheaper ways to do business and economize the production process – without compromising on creativity quality.

From creation to delivery, we can no longer rely on traditional production methods in the modern pharma landscape.

Scott Freeman is Integrated Director at The Operators Creative.

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