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Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

In a world of change, it’s back to basics

It’s James Atherton’s specialist area – so which of three digital campaigns gets his full five stars? And, read James’s tips for increasing digital effectiveness…

Fact: the internet has changed the communications landscape more than anyone could have ever imagined. 2011 was another year littered with examples of digital's continued impact on society as political uprisings were facilitated, the traditional news model further rewritten and, somewhat less significantly, the dark art of marketing given another good hard shake.

While a fair few of us failed to get on board the Cluetrain back in 1999, by and large advertisers and marketers have woken up to the implications and opportunities this paradigm shift represents and have begun to adjust their strategies accordingly. Integrated campaigns are gradually being delivered where the move has been made beyond storytelling and into involvement, with the right channels chosen for the right audience, previously passive consumers actively engaging, and media space created rather than just being stared at. Even some of the outputs from the healthcare sector have begun to impress, and we all know how well beaten the 'pharma lagging behind the times' drum is.

The problem is that brilliant integrated or indeed brilliant digital-only campaigns are still a rarity; too often unsound strategies caused by an insufficient understanding of digital channels and how they integrate result in poor creative or missed creative opportunities. As with any major development or shift, marketers need to avoid the bandwagon and consider the wider picture that surrounds it; to combine the understanding of a new landscape with a return to the basics of a solid, business-focused strategy that can then be unlocked by brilliantly executed creative.

Two of the examples below are from Pfizer and illustrate the differing roles digital can play in a campaign; the first has digital at the heart, whereas the second is a great example of mixed media where digital could have been used to much greater effect. Finally we'll look at a mobile asthma app from GSK, an instance where the appeal of developing an app may have distracted its creators from ensuring an app was the right choice to deliver value for their target audience in the first place.

Back in Play – Pfizer



At first glance, Back in Play comes across as a cynical and nonsensical attempt to cash in on the buzz of a World Cup; what do back pain and football have to do with each other? In creating a football game that focuses on throw-ins, Ogilvy Health found the answer. They recruited the notorious long-throw artist Rory Delap and featured him in a series of YouTube videos to promote not only the game but also the condition, ankylosing spondylitis.

Out of the (one guesses) limited budget available, sufficient investment was put into the game’s development for something simple but credible to be produced, with detailed collateral around the disease area highly visible. Targeted digital media buys, a well-chosen ambassador and clever PR also helped differentiate the campaign from the general melange of World Cup noise.

In choosing a specific aspect of football relevant to back pain (the throw in), Pfizer were also able to avoid the risk of appearing to ride on the coat-tails of a sport’s popularity; a relevant example of which being Bayer’s Keepy Uppies game for world haemophilia day, where the only reason for the football tie-in was that ‘keepy uppies’ represent ‘all [haemophiliacs] can do rather than the things they can’t’.

Rational Explanation – Pfizer



Pfizer’s Alzheimer’s campaign won a number of awards for McCann Healthcare Sydney last year, and rightly so. A mixed media campaign encouraging early screening for Alzheimer’s, it took a simple creative idea (the irrational made rational when seen from an Alzheimer’s patient’s perspective) and executed it brilliantly.

Teaser press ads saw slippers in toasters, with burnt slippers then mailed out to GPs and sales reps. Christmas cards were sent out at Easter and items put out of place in reps’ hotel rooms prior to a major international conference, again recalling a press ad. USB credit cards were also given to GPs, taking them straight to the disease-awareness site (and potentially automatically logging them in).

All in all it’s a fantastic mixed media campaign, but one that could have been so much better had the strategy and creative been more successfully deployed digitally. Extensive research tells us how HCPs practically live on Medscape and; a homepage takeover buy could have misplaced content or altered language momentarily, leading to the Rational Explanation tagline and a link to the campaign site.

Even a simple touch like adding the URL to the press ads would have significantly helped boost traffic to the campaign site, enabling interaction with the richer content that sits behind the emotive message.

MyAsthma – GSK



GSK have developed an asthma-related app promoted via a YouTube video featuring Kirsty McCabe, apparently a weather correspondent for ITV’s Daybreak, along with some Pay Per Click media.

As Pfizer chose to do with their Back in Play campaign, GSK have opted for the celebrity tie-in. As with Delap there is a relevant connection, but the contrastingly low awareness of McCabe amongst the general public and slightly cheap feel of the video itself means little benefit is likely to be reaped. Available budget may again have been limited, but a higher profile tie-in and more attention to creative detail would have meant exponentially increased awareness, generating sufficient usage of the app to justify the expenditure in developing it. And would Michael Fish really be that expensive?    

The app itself also seems a little behind the times, serving mainly to host the ‘Asthma Control Test’, with the idea that this is repeated and the severity of the patient’s asthma logged over time (something that arguably doesn’t necessitate the development of an app).

To make the app truly worthwhile, could GPS tracking and weather forecast data not have been combined to help develop an understanding of how changes in the weather or their location is affecting the user’s asthma, something that was done to an extent by Claritin?

Ultimately the campaign suffers from errors that hark back to a time when digital communications and technology were used simply because they were new, not because they were right. With a little more thought, time and attention to detail it could have been so much more.

Article by
James Atherton

consultant, Blue Latitude @therton

27th January 2012


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