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Doctors Are People Too: Communicating through Entertainment


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2018
Volume 38
Issue 5

It’s just as hard to make treatments look good to physicians as it is patients-but communicating through entertainment can be done.

Pharmaceuticals is a big business. Industry spend on digital marketing is predicted to hit $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 drug advertising, while only a twelfth is invested into R&D.

This in itself is not overtly shocking. Competition is the lifeblood 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 pharma 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 image). This was used as a sweeping metaphor for diarrhea medication with relaxing after effects. Doctor or not, 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, pharma 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 pharma 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.

Embrace digital entertainment

Pharma 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 organization 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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