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Creative critiques of pharma and healthcare ads and campaigns

Stop advertising, start socialising!

Social media thought leader, Ángel Gonzalez, reviews Lilly, Janssen and Leo Pharma eMarketing campaigns 

There is a single word paving the way of the continuous, uncertain… but exciting future landscape: “change”.

The democratisation of technology and its universal adoption by newly empowered target audiences in their day-to-day lives means the rules are changing. Markets are now horizontal, not vertical and power is displayed in what we know now as the new markets of conversations.

People want to express their opinions, desires, experiences, needs and complaints. They want to share these with their friends, colleagues, peers and, indeed, the marketers. Now they have the technology tools to do it; now they have the skills to do it. It is a form of storytelling that has given them a real power.

As a result, the message shaping the equity of any one brand is out of our total control. It's being re-formulated through the conversations of the customers. In the healthcare sector this is happening regardless of whether they are HCPs, patients or the general public.

A brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room, according to Jeff Bezos the chairman of Amazon. That company got the big picture of this new paradigm and transformed the publishing sector by co-creating their brand with the open, free and non-inhibited conversations of their clients.

Are you listening to these conversations when you are out of the room? Are you taking advantage of the brand sentiment – whatever it is – expressed in those virtual ecosystems? Moreover, are you willing to embrace social media and what it takes in terms of co-managing your brand with audiences who are fed up of monologue ad formats. Your audiences are actively asking for dialogue, and for their experiences to be taken into account. Where are the opportunities in your marketing plans?

My first choice of campaign is on erectile dysfunction, and the other two take different approaches to the condition psoriasis. As is well known, skin care conditions – and in particular psoriasis – are some of the most social of diseases in terms of the buzz and conversations you can find about them at the social web (Sources: Forrester, IMC2 and Return on Focus).

Patients with psoriasis suffer social stigma too and traditionally try hard to hide that they have the condition. On the contrary, when they use social media they become open about it, share their experiences and connect with others by taking part in conversation. They are no longer isolated, which in itself is a move away from them feeling stigmatised. These figures from Ubervu ( give a snapshot report on the social media that supports this statement. Below we can see that LEO Pharma and Janssen are both trying to generate awareness of this condition by dialoging the intimate experiences of their sufferers.

Erectile Dysfunction – Lilly



If I am honest, I do not understand how there are still advertisers and ad agencies using this kind of creative approach. Albeit very politely, this TV commercial is underestimating the intelligence of its audience.

Why the use of this metaphor to convey the message that ED is a regular condition that can be easily diagnosed and treated with a variety of drugs? Ten years after the first unbranded mass media ED campaign in Europe, it is useless dealing with this condition indirectly using a series of visual coded messages. Patients clearly talk about it at the social web… with no inhibition as you can see from these tweet analytics.

In tweets about the ad some of the responses are telling: “What a stupid ad!”, “I don’t understand this ED ad”. Not talking the same language as your target audience is a big mistake in today’s advertising world. Not listening and being aware of what they are talking about is a genuine sin.

Go to (translated means ‘askforhelptoyourdoctor’) and like a magician’s trick it takes you to (translated to English: So, the basic information is there.  

But it is not enough. What chance is there of their intended audience finding the ‘EVE’, ie, expected visitor experience, at this website, comprehensive as it seems? Where they can express their worries and experiences to reflect the community conversations that are already out there?

I know it is risky to open your brand to the conversation of your audience. But rules are changing and pharma’s newly empowered audiences are bringing down the barriers.

So… Stop Just Advertising, Start Socialising

Exposed Psoriasis – Leo Pharma



This Leo Pharma bet is a brave one. Through testimonies from different individuals living with this condition, they convey the harsh facts of the disease – the distress they feel and its affects on everyday living. They chose a reality format, which adds credibility to the message and invites the audience to accompany the patient during their journey. Altogether a good strategic approach and great creative work, which is then very well executed through true-life cameo clips.

But I wonder if they have not missed something? Rather than selling brand names, in today’s advertising world we sell brand experiences. Yes, we can see that here they have done just that, and rather well. But, again, where is the invitation for sufferers and their relatives to have those all-important conversations?

Leo Pharma could have so easily taken the next step and hosted engagement not just for the benefit of their community and wider network of patients, but to put themselves in a position where they can relate with those talking about psoriasis at the blogosphere. An opportunity to reach real engagement has been lost.

So… Stop Just Advertising, Start Socialising


Psoriasis 360 – Janssen



In contrast with the harsh-facts approach of Leo Pharma, I have found this example, produced for the Spanish patient association Accion Psoriasis and sponsored by Janssen.

The approach is absolutely different. Psoriasis is a difficult disease, but you can raise awareness by using positive, creative imagery. And this is what I feel they have done. And not just in term of the graphics and art direction – this is a site that conveys positivity and hope.

At the heart of the site is a video with testimonies from many different psoriasis sufferers. They talk about their symptoms, they wonder ‘why them?’, they illustrate that it can be diagnosed at different stages of life, they share the stigma they feel in the eyes of the society, and convey the fact that it’s neither contagious nor infectious. Here are real patients looking directly into the eyes of the audience to tell of their experiences. Experiences that touch the nerve and offer key insights. In less than one month this video has reached 1.5 million views.

But social media can go further. If the approach included the use of different applications, the psoriasis sufferer could feel more empowered and share even more experiences. Bring it all together with educational messages, apps for the computer and the iPhone, information for doctors, a mini-atlas of psoriasis available at the AppStore, a disease calculator… and social plugins that let the user become digital ambassadors, sharing content through their social sites.

Now, what an excellent approach that would be.

So… Stop Just Advertising, Start Socialising

Article by
Ángel Gonzalez

founder & CEO, Ideagoras

5th January 2012


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