Let’s Get Emotional in Pharma

After 25 years in pharmaceutical advertising, I am perplexed by how limited our industry efforts to “get emotional” with our healthcare audiences has been.

Science confirms (and other industries have put it into practice successfully) that most of the decisions we make are based on an emotional response. This is also true for brand selection. The brands we often select have done something—they’ve made an emotional connection with us. That emotional connection grabs our attention, and sparks trial and often repeat usage (assuming our brand experience has been positive). That emotional connection leads us to have a relationship with the brand and creates longer-term brand loyalty.

Other industries have long tapped into the science of emotion and have used it to successfully differentiate their brands, even in perceived “commodity” markets. Case in point: Jif Peanut Butter. As a rational woman, I recognize that the peanuts, hydrogenated oil and salt that is found in all of the peanut butters on the market are likely the same. However, I can’t imagine purchasing anything but Jif because I am a choosy mother who will only give my children the best! It’s ridiculous—I know—but it works every time I’m at the shelf making a buying decision and I just can’t bring myself to compromise my purchase decision. The food/beverage, beauty, and car industries (among many others) have all latched onto a powerful way to build their brands and engender strong loyalty, even in the midst of more cost-effective options on the market.

So, why don’t we put this into practice more in pharma? It seems particularly relevant as we face so many products reaching patent expiry and generic competition, more “me-too” products being launched, and more Rx-to-OTC switches occurring (where the consumer will ultimately be making a product selection). We continue to see brands being promoted on purely functional benefits with little regard for the emotional pull that could be created with the audience. What happens then when the competitor “one ups” your functional offering or if that functional benefit offers no greater differentiation than the rest of the market?

As advertising execs, we need to push our clients to tap into emotional branding, or we will be doomed to create mediocre brands whose sales peak too soon and are replaced with the next thing to enter the market. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to validate the physician’s motivation to prescribe our brand with the appropriate data, science and peer support. But those are the reasons to believe what the brand is promising us. It also doesn’t mean that the functional benefits aren’t important—we just need to link them to an emotional trigger to evoke the desired response—our pharmaceutical brand being selected from among the cluttered sample closet.

There are definitely examples of this in our industry. We can look at Dove and Gardasil as success stories of what can be achieved—we just need to do better, and defend it with passion so that our clients will believe they can be successful. Who’s with me?

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2 Comments

  1. Kelley Connors, MPH
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I’m with you! I think that in pharma, the most authentic place for emotion is in patient stories. Not the “informercial” kind we see so often. Actually Bristol Myers Squibb had a series for while and Sharon Blynne, an actress, was featured as part of an oncology advocacy campaign, Bald is Beautiful. They were web-based episodes.

    But, in health care in general, I can think of NY Presbyterian Hospital’s TV ads. They grab me every time. The ads look like they were not even shot…you forget that a camera had to capture their story. It’s more than a story..it’s inside their head and heart. And, the series of TV ads are all shot in Black and White. They’re stunning.

  2. Jack J Florio
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    It Is true in all businesses & industries where there are real people involved.
    It has been true throughout history.
    “Stories are Powerful Communucators”
    This is especially true in the pharmaceutical industry where we change and save lives.
    Jack Florio
    CBO, LiquidGrids