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Visualising medicine

How creative can simplify the complex


Healthcare is a serious industry with a serious mission. But serious doesn’t have to mean boring. The attitudes, personalities and respect that exist throughout the pharmaceutical advertising landscape play an important role in the evolution of a brand.

Harnessing recent digital breakthroughs, pharmaceutical advertising has grown incredibly creative over recent years. Despite the sometimes dry subject matter, brands are looking for ever-more colourful and provocative ways to message their product. A launch is often pushed for up to two years before the next treatment
is introduced. It’s a commitment. Whatever the message, it needs to have staying power.

Visual metaphor

Intramuscular. Dyspnoea. Pharmaceutical advertising has a major challenge: how to communicate such terminology to the public? Healthcare language can seem an impenetrable tongue to those not in the know, whichcan be intimidating and troubling when it comes to looking after our own bodies. That’s a major hurdle when attempting to sell complex propositions to a layman.

Whereas scientific diagrams were once a go-to solution, more often today’s pharmaceutical creative actively avoids photoreal representation of medical conditions or treatments. The depth of scientific accuracy involved, along with a wish to avoid depiction of potentially disturbing or embarrassing bodily processes, can see a pitch rejected out of hand – or, at the very least, it can necessitate a lengthy and complicated approval process. Pharma is among the most highly regulated marketing sectors that exist today, after all.

The upshot is that you must get creative with your creative.

Visual metaphor is a key approach to overcoming such obstacles. Animation, motion graphics, CG simulations and more can convery how a drug works without convoluted medical jargon. Visual metaphors help us avoid getting bogged down in scientific details, and give non-healthcare professionals a more instant, instinctive understanding of how a treatment can help. The stories these visuals tell evoke empathy, pose challenges and dramatise benefits in a compelling way.

Mixed media

The pharmaceutical industry has grown into a mixed media beast; from ad consumption to service delivery. Smartphone apps are driving faster, more efficient emergency medical response, while major bodies such as Public Health England enjoy a sizeable social media following.

Agencies and creative studios alike are moving towards a fuller service offering to cater for increased demand. According to Econsultancy, more than half of agencies (52%) now offer a full range of digital marketing services. This is particularly important with pharma, where mould-breaking solutions are integral to creating accessible messaging for life-changing products.

By harnessing the multitude of artistic techniques available today, agencies and studios have the scope to deliver pharmaceutical advertising at scale. Tim Armand, the co-founder and president of community engagement specialist Health Union, agreed, noting that “there are just way too many people participating and talking about their health, specific conditions and specific treatments on social media” and “there’s a lot of downside of not listening when this conversation is happening”.

Pharma companies are coming around to small screen media, albeit slowly.

Integrated creative production

Once a product has worked its way through the lengthy approval process, things need to move fast. That means nimbleness and efficiency take precedence: creatives must quickly identify the best channels, the strongest messaging within those formats, and the most engaging imagery possible within the restricted number of marketing platforms available to pharma brands.

What’s more, money invested in pharma advertising is at an all-time high and distributed across more channels than ever before. In 2017, AbbVie anti-inflammatory medication led the way with $341m spent across 16 commercials. That means you can’t just think fast, you also need to think big.

In this landscape, integrated approaches are key. They can take what feel like complex briefs and turn them into simple, effective processes. ‘Integrated’ in this context means overarching, holistic approaches to creative that, from the outset, consider all end requirements and possible outputs. If a campaign is to be delivered across YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, television, magazines and beyond – with no one medium prioritised over any other – all channels must be considered from stage one of the production process, and the shoot must be approached with all simultaneously in mind. It’s a challenge very specific to the world of marketing today, and one that only the most nimble and integrated of creative thinkers will be able to meet.

But for those that do, they can save money, widen their reach and improve creativity for brands all in one fell swoop. Creating pharma assets in the 21st century means flexibility, experimentation and innovation.

If agencies can focus on these abilities, then the complex can easily be diluted into the simple. Digital sales aids and marketing are now firmly on the pharmaceutical agenda.

Article by
Scott Freeman and Ben Le Tourneau

Scott Freeman and Ben Le Tourneau are both Integrated Directors and Co-founders of The Operators Creative

27th February 2019

Article by
Scott Freeman and Ben Le Tourneau

Scott Freeman and Ben Le Tourneau are both Integrated Directors and Co-founders of The Operators Creative

27th February 2019

From: Marketing



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Blue Latitude Health

Blue Latitude Health is a creative marketing consultancy. Founded in 2003, our combination of heritage, approach and capability gives us...