Pharma marketing: Rising above the noiseBy Tom Dougherty
20 November 2020
Pharma marketing: How to be heard above the noise
We love our pharmaceuticals – and Big Pharma knows it. That’s why more than $6 billion are spent in pharma marketing, just in the US alone.
What other industry spends so much? We all have seen the litany of insurance advertising. But that pales in comparison to pharmaceuticals. Insurance marketers spend a little more than $3 billion, almost half of what goes into pharma advertising.
But we notice insurance marketing, even if it doesn’t change things all that much. Insurance brands – especially, the big three (GEICO, Progressive, and State Farm) – are mired in a spending war. With market share remaining basically the same.
Despite that, we notice their little skits. (And that’s what they are. Comedy shorts that entertain. But don’t create preference.) So how come we don’t notice pharma marketing as much?
The problems with pharma marketing
Well, for one thing, it’s hard to be entertaining in this space. The products are no laughing matter. Even if brands ensure a happier tone than you might expect.
Clever rarely works in marketing anyway. Truly funny, yes. As long as it’s rooted in a meaningful brand. Like Duluth Trading Company, for instance.
There are greater reasons why pharma marketing fails to make much of an impact. For one, it’s difficult for target audiences to sort through it all. Naming in the medical industry as a whole is simply over the top. They’re all made-up names, designed to elicit a certain word association.
Viagra, for example, relates to vitality. Allegra relates to alleviating. And so on.
That’s all fine in a vacuum. But it’s mighty expensive to make a made-up name known. This is why billions are spent each year to teach those names.
”Like many categories, pharma marketing suffers from like messaging. The ads all look and sound the same. Enjoy a better life. Be with family. Play with the grandkids. They blend into each other like a spice mix you never use.”
Don’t be ignored
And they’re also easy to tune out. Or even remember. Most pharma marketing targets patients who will bring up the drug to their doctor. Brands are hoping for a pull-through effect from patient to doctor. (Pharma brands market directly to docs through sales reps.)
It does happen. And it can even raise awareness among physicians who see companies financially supporting a brand. (Although docs are most concerned with reimbursement. We know, having worked with many medical device companies and conducting research all over the world with medical professionals.)
It’s all rather inefficient when you think about it. Billions are spent to teach audiences unpronounceable names that generally only target a small sector.
The pharma marketing model is a bit like real estate.
Think about this. When you’re buying or selling a house, you suddenly see all those FOR SALE signs in many a yard. But when you complete that transactions, they all go away in your mind.
Pharma advertising is similar. If you don’t have the condition the product promises to relieve, the advertising is easy to ignore. You’re simply not the target audience. However, if you do ail from that condition, then you’re more likely to notice.
But are you really? Even if you have the condition, you might not notice. Or really care. Like many categories, pharma marketing suffers from like messaging. The ads all look and sound the same. Enjoy a better life. Be with family. Play with the grandkids. They blend into each other like a spice mix you never use.
There’s just nothing distinctive about most of it.
”At Stealing Share, we live by a simple mantra. Be different and better so you can steal market share. Without offering a true choice, you can’t be chosen. It’s as simple as that.”
Dealing with side effects
There are other issues, unique to the pharmaceutical industry. For one thing, if you advertise a pharma product, you are required by law to tell the potential side effects. It’s one of the biggest dilemmas for the industry. How do you sneak by the side effects without harming your message?
The pharma industry hasn’t really figured it out. Although, I have seen a few that simply list them in subtitles. Most, however, simply show happy images (grandparents playing with their grandkids) in an attempt to distract viewers. Others use animation.
But here’s the problem. And it gets to the nugget of what pharma marketing must consider. The brands don’t show or say anything more compelling than the side effects. Side effects are hard to ignore. In part, because they are based on fear. The highest emotional trigger for humans.
The names? Of course, they aren’t as compelling. The images? Bland. The music? All the same. Simply put, pharma marketing often fails at the golden rule of it all. Be different and better.
How to be different and better
At Stealing Share, we live by a simple mantra. Be different and better so you can steal market share. Without offering a true choice, you can’t be chosen. It’s as simple as that.
Align your messages with the highest emotional intensities among your target audience. Be different than the rest in message, tone, and meaning.
Many brands – even those owned by Fortune 500 companies – wear blinders when it comes to the rest of the category. They simply don’t see how they are similar to what’s expected. So, retailers copy Walmart. Phone manufacturers ape Apple. Car brands show beautiful people driving along a coastal road. Many categories suffer from like marketing.
But like any category, pharma marketing must go beyond product benefits and dig into the emotional needs that are fulfilled by your brand.
It’s hard work. But we are experts at it. Drop us a line and we’ll show you how.
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