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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

One scoop or two?

A parallel between local ice cream preferences and pharma brands will make you think twice against rolling out exclusive, one-for-all global marketing plans.

OK, it certainly took its time to arrive, but at least in the UK, summer has finally turned up. Months late and it came just in time for the Olympics – yes the hot weather has finally arrived. And I'm not sure about anyone else, but hot weather always makes me think of ice cream. And at this moment, vanilla ice cream in particular.

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that the most popular flavour of ice cream, when aggregated on a global scale, is vanilla. After all, what's not to like about it. Granted it's a bit bland, perhaps even boring, but few people actively dislike it. Indeed in a survey conducted by the International Ice Cream Association, 92 per cent of US companies surveyed said vanilla is the flavour they sell the most of.

However in China, lychee-flavoured ice cream is far more popular, closely followed by more obscure flavours like red bean and ginger. Here in the UK chocolate is way out in front as the most popular flavour, while Italians prefer gelato to ice cream, and adore mixing and matching different flavours.

All very interesting you might say, but what on earth does this have to do with the subject of pharmaceutical marketing? Actually quite a bit… it struck me recently that preparing global advertising concepts for healthcare brands is a bit like selling ice cream. Vanilla-flavoured concepts will invariably (when aggregated on a global basis) score higher than concepts with a unique and quirky character or flavour.

It's perhaps no coincidence also that these same somewhat bland concepts tend to test better in the major pharmaceutical market of the US, where public taste tends to be for the more conventional and less risqué.

And indeed is there anything wrong with this? After all, if you can produce a concept that globally tests pretty well, then it should do all you need of it. And, of course, the big advantage of global concepts and branding is not only consistency but also cost savings (developing one concept globally should produce significant efficiencies and reduce costs).

In fact one of the most frequent questions that I have heard procurement departments ask is, “how much will this approach save in absolute dollars”. This is in fact quite easy to work out, and does result in considerable global and local savings.

However, much like ice cream, locally produced, locally-flavoured concepts almost invariably test better in the market that they were designed for than global, more anodyne, concepts. And if we are to believe in the principle of testing concepts to get the most effective communication of our message, then global concepts are also likely to be significantly less effective in certain markets than locally tailored ones.

And this is the key point; while it's easy to see how much money can be saved by producing a common global concept, few companies also ask the perhaps more pertinent question, about how much marketing effectiveness will be lost locally by taking this approach? An informed guess might lead you to think that this loss of effectiveness and consequent potential impact on sales might be far more significant than the costs of local adaptation and flavour.

That is not to say that having a common global brand position, message platform and essence is not a desirable thing. In this age of universal communication it only makes sense. But maybe a purist drive to align all things as much as possible globally, might just decrease the very marketing effectiveness that this approach is designed to increase.

Recognising  and offsetting increased effectiveness against the cost of adding local flavour might indeed produce better communication and actually increase the profitability of local operating companies. And it is certainly easier than trying to persuade half the world that they actually really prefer vanilla after all…

Food for thought indeed.

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

23rd August 2012

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