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Marketing to Professionals: Appealing to Doctor's Emotions


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-12-01-2005
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Sanofi-Aventis' campaign for Taxotere elicits an emotional response from oncologists.

Specialists of the same therapeutic category tend to share similar attitudes about medicine and drug therapies. Infectious disease specialists, for example, want to know the source of an infection, whereas rheumatologists are willing to live with more uncertainty. Cardiologists, who often make life-or-death choices, tend to favor immediate intervention, while neurologists prefer the watch-and-wait approach. Naturally, these attitudes influence their approaches to medicine and their prescribing behaviors. By understanding the characteristics that define each group of specialists, marketers can learn how better to communicate with them—and engage specialists who take a clinical, detached approach to medicine.

Larry Star

Winning Hearts and Minds

To understand what makes specialists tick, marketers must conduct extensive research on these doctors. Borrowing from the disciplines of cognitive psychology and cultural anthropology, marketers can identify the emotional triggers that will evoke feeling and empathy in these specialists. If executed properly, this approach can help marketers craft messages that will overcome a doctor's initial resistance to a new product or concept.

Breaking through a doctor's habit of immediately rejecting a product or concept can be challenging. Sanofi-Aventis set out to overcome this challenge in its campaign geared to oncologists for the drug Taxotere (docetaxel), a treatment option for patients in advanced stages of cancer. Because oncologists tend to be skeptical about prescribing drugs that extend lives of cancer patients by only a few weeks or months, Sanofi-Aventis created an emotionally-charged campaign that highlights the importance of a patient's last moments, which—as the ads suggest—might include the touch of an infant's hand, a walk in the woods, or even a chance to retell a favorite story. With the tagline "Survival data that can lead to moments like this," the campaign turns the familiar shape of the Kaplan-Meier graph, a standard measure of survival duration frequently used by oncologists, into a pathway that leads to snapshots of memorable events. Combining hard science with lump-in-the-throat emotion, the ads demonstrate that some patients do treasure a few more weeks of life.

A Human Touch

For many years, internists and infectious disease specialists—the doctors who diagnose and treat most cases of HIV—have focused on the cold facts of the disease, such as viral load, immune function, and resistance. But Abbott Laboratories, makers of Kaletra (lopinavir-ritonavir), a protease inhibitor that reduces HIV infection to undetectable levels, took a softer approach. The new Abbott campaign showed doctors that patients can and deserve to lead normal lives, and can enjoy everyday pleasures without the fear of ostracism. The campaign introduces an image of an African-American woman sporting a radiant smile and a hat to match. The ad suggests that because of Kaletra, women like this are still smiling—still enjoying life and wearing their favorite hats.

Sanofi-Aventis factored in an emotional component to break through to their target audience.

Both campaigns transcend science by relying on emotion. Such direct appeal may change the mindset of even the most cynical specialists. Whether projecting the joys of normal life or the pleasures of a medically prolonged one, marketing to the "-ologist" requires a balancing act between intellect and intuition. Because doctors are trained to suppress their emotions, it's often a challenge to understand their points of view. Marketers who expand their traditional knowledge of specialists by studying their feelings, motivations, and attitudes, may encourage them to take a more open-minded approach to new drug therapies.

Science in the Spotlight

Sometimes, science alone is sexy. This is particularly true when a revolutionary drug creates a whole new pharmacological category. Instead of searching for a more abstract, emotional link, marketers can focus on a product's functional attributes, especially at the beginning of a drug's lifecycle. Genentech's introduction of Avastin (bevacizumab) shows how dramatizing a poorly understood process—angiogenesis—can deliver a message that specialists can understand.

If the science is sexy, marketers can leave out emotional triggers.

A new approach to the treatment of cancer, Avastin is a novel anti-angiogenic agent that slows the spread of the disease by suppressing the blood supply to the tumor. The campaign is based on a deceptively simple visual—a light switch on top of a tangle of arteries and veins. The ad copy reduces the science to a simple point: "When the Angiogenic Switch Turns Up Vessel Growth... Turn Down Angiogenesis...With Avastin." Because it is simple and visual, the ad communicates a clear and direct message to oncologists. The drug works by cutting off the blood supply to the tumors, preventing them from receiving the nutrients they need to grow and multiply throughout the body.

Engaging doctors from a scientific standpoint, the medical journal advertising campaign explains the process, and positions Avastin as the owner of the angiogenesis concept. The launch establishes the brand as an effective way to "switch off" tumor vessel growth.

Doctors' Choices Revealed

AMP honored this year's top-rated journal ads at The Doctors' Choice Awards.

For the third consecutive year, the Association of Medical Publications honored pharma companies and ad agencies for displaying excellence in journal advertising at The Doctors' Choice Awards. More than 7,500 prescribing physicians judged 300+ ads, representing the 200 most widely advertised products in 2004. The ads were judged on their ability to communicate, provide information, gain attention, and encourage action among doctors.

Salix's ad for Colozal (balsalizde), created by MedThink to promote the drug's effectiveness in treating ulcerative colitis, was the highest scoring single-page ad. Pfizer also walked away with three honors—two for Zyvox (linezolid) and another for Spiriva (tiotropium), which it jointly markets with Boehringer Ingelheim. Merck took home awards for Vytorin (ezetimibe/simvastatin) and Fosomax (alendronate) in the respective cardiovasculars and ob/gyn categories. Sanofi-Aventis won for Lantus (insulin) in the diabetes category and for Uroxatral (alfuzosin) in urologicals. Wyeth/Amgen's Enbrel (etanercept) took top place in anti-arthritics and dermatologicals.

On the agency side, FCB HealthCare won accolades for Lidoderm (lidocaine), Fosomax, and Valtrex (valacyclovir). Cline Davis & Mann's two-page Zyvox ad was the highest scoring; Harrison & Star won highest scoring for its four-page Avastin ad; Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare won for Enbrel in the anti-arthritics category.


Ateb, which works on workflow and customer relationship management in the healthcare industry, chose CPRi as its agency of record. Vioptix, an optical diffusion imaging and spectroscopy company, selected Gibbs & Soell as its agency of record. Gibbs & Soell will also collaborate with KZE PharmAssociates to offer more thorough support to their clients. Mentus Life Science was named agency of record for Dowpharma. Sirtex Medical selected Ruder Finn as its agency of record.

Jon Hussey


Palio Communications won three awards in the Creativity 35 competition.

David Trexler


Michael K. Rock joined Advanced Medical Marketing Communications as director of medical affairs. Paul Saatsoglou joined Eisai as senior director of market research and business analytics. David Trexler joined as director of new products portfolio. WRB Communications promoted Denise Dixon to vice president of marketing and sales and hired Marianne Webdell as national sales manager. Palio Communications hired new staff: JonHussey as vice president and account director, Leanne Keough as studio writer, and Ajay Nair as account director. Justin Iacobucci joined Nature Clinical Practice as US Account Manager responsible for Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism, Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine and Nature Clinical Practice Neurology. Jonathan Sackier joined GSW Worldwide as chief strategic medical officer.

Jonathan Sackier

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