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Adding emotional value

The formula for true brand advertising is a compelling story, beautifully told

A heart with a Euro sign on its faceAs a young creative working in consumer advertising many years ago, I learned that the formula for quality brand communication was simple. True brand advertising is a compelling story, beautifully told. It is the only method that truly engages the reader on an emotional, as well as functional, level. This is the bedrock of a quality consumer brand.

Looking at global car advertising, the narrative, both written and visual, will generally take the reader to a place where emotional connections are made.

The story is not about getting from A to B, or functional attributes like fuel consumption, but rather what the car says about the owner and how it makes them feel about themselves. There is an expression that a brand is nothing more than a pot filled with one's own life experiences. It is disappointing that global pharma brand advertising still tries to describe how an engine works when it could be doing so much more.

Doctors as consumers
When I moved into pharma advertising at the end of the 1980s, it was clear that the brands were differentiated purely by functionality. Nearly every piece of communication contained the trilogy of 'effective, safe and fast,' visually attached to a piece of symbolism or a happy smiling patient.

I remember the very first truly global pharma campaign from the US for the cardiovascular brand Cozaar back in the 1990s, it was a singular message of a new class of drug conveyed around the world. A large symbolic A2A motif was depicted against a glass globe. About this time, marketers and their agencies realised that doctors were, in fact, normal, everyday people who watched TV, went to the cinema and read newspapers and magazines.

Consumer-style emotional values in top line GP advertising were born, leaving the rational/functional elements to the body copy, or more importantly, to the sales force. Most European countries were now adopting this 'treating doctors as consumers' style of advertising.

Creative award-winning pharmaceutical campaigns from Barcelona to Berlin were great testament to this new way of working. But over 10 years later this trend still hasn't fully caught on in the biggest pharmaceutical market in the world - the US.

The US continues to create US-centric prescription drug advertising, using functionality attached to symbolism, then sells it overseas as global branding. Today much of the world's global pharmaceutical brands are run centrally out of the US. US-based consumer ad agencies produce global campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Levi's. These brands maintain consistent, emotional core values across a multitude of cultures and frontiers.

Healthcare professionals and marketers have cultural and geographic differences in taste and attitude, but as consumers they all live in the same global village.

Agencies in the US will start to discard the functionality and symbolism and begin to embrace communication values that are already well entrenched within the minds of global consumers.

Pan-European initiatives developed by brand teams here in Europe will help to shape the future of the global pharmaceutical market place.

Consistency and continuity
The one truly functional attribute of any pan-European or global campaign is brand guidelines; a template for consistency and continuity on issues of typography, photography, colour and layout. It has to communicate the basic strategy, what the brand stands for and how this can be adapted locally by drawing on and reflecting the values of the local culture.

In consumer agency networks, all markets are consulted at an early stage of brand development. There are no orders from high command; instead a feeling of joint ownership prevails between local and central marketers and ad men.

I recently used a UK Xenical obesity ad, that depicts a coffin made from butter, to make a point at a presentation in Zurich. The Swiss audiences were shocked. For them, the reference of death in a healthcare ad is to be avoided at all costs. However, by the end of the presentation the audience began to take on board the nuance of the communication and actually began to appreciate the simple message that clinical obesity caused by a high fat diet is life threatening. Once they understood it and it meant something to them on a personal, emotional level, they began to appreciate it.

When telling a compelling and emotive brand story, one has to take into account the 'shock of the new.' Audiences sometimes need to be winkled out from their comfort zones. They might not like something at first, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the communication is wrong.

Local attitudes and tastes can be different. Even McDonald's 'acts locally.' On a trip to New Zealand I came across the fabled Kiwiburger, which is a bit like a Big Mac but with beetroot and a hard-boiled egg, such is the global diversity of taste.

Target group understanding through considered qualitative research is vital in all brand communication, as is testing emotive responses to the brand values. Establish the commonalities within the values of the brand and build a proposition accordingly.

Teamwork is required to agree the strategic creative brief before ideas are considered and those ideas must be tested in different countries, and agreed by a central brand team before the launch button is pressed. Only then can a true pan-European brand campaign be fully appreciated by doctors from Narvik to Nicosia.

Crossing borders
As the European hub agency of Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering brand, Lipitor (atorvastatin), we formed a European brand team involving both client and agency representation from selective markets.

The clear focus was to develop a unique emotional attitude that would run parallel with the brand's inherent and already acknowledged functional prowess. Once found, this was turned into a big brand advertising idea. We wanted people to embrace the idea ñ to understand it then explore it on their own terms ñ not just implement it because head office said so.

It is all about the big idea that crosses borders. If one market makes prescribing decisions on efficacy and another market makes decisions based on tolerability then it must be possible to adapt the functional story without the brand story being lost or sounding contrived.

The prime objective of pan-European branding is not just about having the 'same message' in every country.Rolling out the 'same old same old' has been half the problem. People today demand more ñ they want to know how they should experience the brand. It is something that they are becoming accustomed to every day. Those that ignore this and continue to promote their pan-European pharmaceutical brand as the same piece of symbolism in every country, without a big brand advertising idea, do so at their own peril.

The Author
Frank Walters
is European creative director at Paling Walters

3rd June 2008

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