Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Trust me I'm in advertising

How does healthcare advertising's repute fare in online open forums?

The line 'trust me, I'm in advertising' – does it read as credible; is there truth in the claim? Pity the advertising professional, viewed either with respect as a potential brand champion and communications guru, or with disdain as a potential inappropriate master of spin and a necessary (and expensive) evil. 

Perhaps it's time that we completely rejected the term 'advertising' once and for all? Utter that controversial word and you open a Pandora's box of historical preconceptions and untruths; memories of disappointment and suspicion that we've all experienced from unfulfilled 'advertising' promises and over-claims. 

For some it's associated with clichéd images of greasy car salesmen wielding frightening smiles and, closer to home, small space ads with non-credible proclamations of enhanced sexual prowess or rapid hair restoration (I take far more interest in the last of these nowadays).

We also need to consider that the pharmaceutical industry itself is the focus for criticism and derision. Whatever we may think as individuals about Ben Goldacre's Bad Pharma, Moynihan & Cassels' Selling Sickness, or any of the publications and individuals that lambast the industry, they do colour the environment and influence the perception of pharma's integrity and honesty. Perhaps, alas, the realm of pharmaceuticals is viewed today with even greater cynicism and suspicion?

But more specifically, what do we think is the truth about pharmaceutical advertising and healthcare communication? Like most things, after you reject the urban myths and hearsay are we left with a pleasant realisation? Aren't we all aware how important it is to tell the truth?

Communications professionals, the client professionals that commission them and the target audiences they touch, all demand the truth. Our digital world is a more transparent world, and a lie today can become a Twitter exposé tomorrow.

The cost of losing credibility
If you choose to cloud the truth, then you may also be choosing to lose all credibility, as well as committing professional or brand, suicide. In today's world, the divide between heroes and villains, right or wrong, and good or bad seems to have become slightly blurred. But isn't that why we are all less prepared to tolerate lies?

It isn't just fear of being 'found out'; we are intelligent, discerning adults navigating a world of constantly changing values and technologies and we deserve the consistency and reliability that truth provides. It doesn't require 'Lincoln logic' to realise that you can always fool some of the people, but it's far less likely with today's world-wide digital communities that you'll do it all of the time. If you believe otherwise, then you insult our collective (and connected) global intelligence. 

Today's marketers and communication professionals understand and acknowledge that a brand's success can ultimately depend on the honesty of its voice (Sue Unerman and Jonathan Salem Baskin's book Tell the Truth explores this more). 

Our industry is well regulated and we're obliged to adhere to stringent criteria when communicating about medicines. In addition, a professional worth his sodium chloride has enough common sense – and pride – to realise that only messages founded on truth will form the basis for any effective and long-term brand building.

Of course we are hired to encourage a positive perception amongst healthcare professionals towards the brands that we promote through the materials we create, but that perception is built upon nothing less than the hard facts that we know about the brand. 

Whatever the preconceptions are of the world of advertising as a whole, doesn't the pharmaceutical realm display professional integrity and transparency? We have a responsibility to speak the truth and the stakes in our profession are high. However creatively tempting it might be to embellish a claim, and even if the code was not there to remind us, would we twist a line of copy when we know that a life may depend it?

Our part in improving lives
Any integrated campaign involves talking with the general public and those patients in their midst. When it comes to communicating with non-professionals, as with brand promotion (with some variation according to region), we work within regulatory guidelines.

Communications professionals, the client professionals that commission them and the target audiences they touch all demand the truth. A lie today can become a Twitter exposé tomorrow

In doing so, we have the opportunity to use the truth not only to educate and inform, but also to empower our audience, encouraging both disease awareness and better understanding of disease management. Providing accurate and considered information to a patient regarding his prescribed medicine is a necessary and valuable role for the drug company and its agency.

We also have a role in increasing early diagnosis and encouraging positive dialogue between patient and professional. There are those that would argue the person in the street is ill-equipped to understand or is disinclined to listen to the 'science that goes beyond their understanding' – surely an attitude that's condescending and dismissive towards the intelligence and common sense of the general population.

Despite being viewed warily by some, direct-to- patient, direct-to-consumer and disease awareness campaigns that responsibly explain the truth about a disease, its symptoms and implications, and that person's potential next steps are surely a good thing. When developed in an appropriate manner and using our skills to ensure that we communicate in the most appropriate way to our specified audience, making this information available is a proactive step towards disease prevention. Why hide the facts, when the honest approach is to tell people the truth about conditions that may well impact them. 

Surely, disease awareness is simply telling the truth to people that deserve to be told? Information designed to provide support, guidance, coping strategies and reassurance that no one needs to feel isolated, confused, or helpless is extremely valuable. 

The power of more recent initiatives, such as Schizophrenia 24x7 and Psoriasis 360 (and there are many other examples), is that they show us the reality about disease and help us to accept it as a part of our lives – and share information that helps us live with it. This is a truth from which we can all draw strength.

Championing truth 
In conclusion, if we lie on the self-analysis couch, what do we discover about ourselves, and our 'advertising' profession? Well, my potentially controversial view is that we can hold our heads relatively high. 

We are not unthinking hacks or spin doctors. We assess data and use it as the basis to evolve strategy.  We applaud true insight and innovation. We are mindful of professional and patient requirements both through formal and informal ethics, and we understand the importance of accuracy.

The industry and its partner agencies provide practical and relevant answers to communication challenges and we are sensitive to our business environments. I believe that we do genuinely aspire to do the right thing. We are passionate, responsible and professional, and I believe that in the main we DO defend, encourage and champion truth through our work. 

Our clients, healthcare professionals and the public are the best judges, but I think perhaps with good reason and a degree of pride, we can rightly say: “Trust us, we're in pharmaceutical advertising”.

Article by
Malcolm Badger

creative director. He can be contacted at

7th May 2013

From: Marketing



COVID-19 Updates and Daily News

Featured jobs


Add my company

We’re a specialist health consultancy that supports companies, healthcare professionals and patients to work hand in hand with a common...

Latest intelligence

Personalised medicine AI
How early-stage clinical research is facilitating the new wave of personalised medicines
By Jorg Taubel...
patient diversity buckland
Patient diversity in clinical trials needs to be centre stage
By Danny Buckland...
Why empathy in digital patient recruitment is vital
This is where empathy mapping can be incredibly effective....