Thursday, November 26, 2009
This is the problem with pharma.
The ads for the diseases themselves are typically more powerful than ads by any pharmaceutical company with the drugs to combat them. Yet, here in the U.S., the regulations governing the latter almost guarantee a direct-to-consumer advertising (DTC) that is at times insulting, and at others, bordering on farcical. (By the way, the only other country in the world to allow DTC is New Zealand.)
Before I chum the waters of the pharma advertising debate, focus on how intense this “Fight Back” campaign for the Canadian Cancer Society is. You gotta love Canada. They give us Shatner, Rush and good PSAs. The English version of the DDB campaign above is different in tone from the French version here, (with site), and has more intensity in my opinion. (The melodrama in the French version is working overtime thanks to the art film-like cabaret piano.)
Minor things though. These are powerful. Both use real people to act out scripted and poignant stories of the fight against cancer by either themselves or loved ones.
For its part, cancer is personified as coming from the viewer’s point of view. (Having had a family member lose said fight, the English version resonates more for me, due in no small part to a more intense background track.)
Time to chum.
The pros and cons of pharma ads can be debated all day: I’m right. You’re right. We’re all right. Let’s just assume though that pharma advertising is screwed in its present form.
The minute a brand talks about how their product might be the answer for the disease you have—or didn’t know you had—it comes under scrutiny for implying just those very claims, and rightfully so.
The current solution however, is to include a ton of legal copy that is supposed to give consumers the info they need to make informed decisions, (also known as fair balance).
Tell me how that’s accomplished in a :30 spot again?
The fundamental problem with this approach is that so much legalese needs to be included that it undermines what the ad was theoretically intended to do:
Educate people about the truly important stuff.
So basically, the main selling feature of most pharma ads becomes that it’s less harmful than its competition. (Your honor, I call Celebrex’s 2-minute warning as a witness.)
Isn’t that like saying Budweiser is better because it’s involved in less fatal traffic accidents than Miller?* Yet the only warning you see in beer or liquor ads is what... drink responsibly. Based on that logic, pharma should have the same type of warning: Use medicine carefully.
Instead of holding up work that features a rooster in your bed as rising above the competition because it started out as “unbranded,” pharma brands should focus on helping consumers sort through the bullshit. Going to Washington to lobby for the right to Twitter ain’t what I mean, either.
By the way, ALL pharma brands use the unbranded approach at some point. It’s not innovation—it’s how they bend the regulations without breaking them. For example, a microsite about headaches doesn’t mention the brand behind it.
When you click on it though, it takes you to another site that’s for the drug that works on... headaches. That this positioning and approach can win a Clio is absurd. It’s the equivalent of giving an award to a print ad simply because it appeared in a magazine.
(If you need more of a breakdown of other issues at work here, this consumer study highlighting the key differences is as good as any.)
Back to the cancer spot up top, this is where pharma needs to go.
Consumers end up being more confused than educated, certainly not helped by leaky faucet metaphors for erections or costumed characters for heart attacks.
As the Taxi spot for “Antiquing” showed, pharma can be truly funny. Likewise, these cancer spots show pharma can also be intense and emotional, just as living with cancer is.
When an ad works, it grabs you—how can it do that with 50 pages of mandatory?
*They would call this a hypothetical situation. Chill MillerCoors lawyers, chill.