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A clearer picture

Micha Schwing discusses 2010's trends in pharmaceutical imagery

A camera focusing on a landscapeOver the last few years the economic downturn has had a huge impact on all UK businesses and the pharmaceutical industry is no exception. This impact is not just a financial one: many industries, pharmaceutical included, are bearing the brunt of a lack of confidence and mistrust from consumers. New research from Getty Images has tracked the changes in pharmaceutical marketing, which reflects current consumer attitudes.

Images are a powerful tool in communicating with consumers and building a relationship between brands and the public. The kinds of imagery that are most successful in marketing capture the zeitgeist and show a true understanding of what the target audience is feeling.

For the pharmaceutical industry in particular the primary intention at the heart of all communications is to convey a sense of peace of mind and contentment to reassure patients and, ultimately, instil faith in a course of treatment. The healthcare industry has always been particularly savvy about how it can use visuals to talk to its audience. A great photograph can offer comfort by expressing empathy in a way a page of heavy text and details cannot; it can reassure by underlining expertise and compassion, or encourage consumers momentarily to forget their health worries and anxieties.

Shifting consumer attitudes
Getty Images' research into both global and UK visual trends in the pharmaceutical industry demonstrates that companies have changed the imagery they use to talk to customers and other stakeholders.

The recession has brought about a huge shift in consumer attitude, not just with the growing mistrust of business, but also with their perceptions of success: whereas monetary and business success used to be the benchmark for achievement, members of the public are now far more focused on personal happiness and their own sense of self and wellbeing. Some 83 per cent of pharmaceutical visuals globally focus on enjoying life, living it to the fullest and nurturing personal relationships. This is coupled with a decline in the use of business and sports imagery, indicating a shift, not just in UK, but also in worldwide healthcare priorities.

With more people focusing on their own personal happiness as an indication of success, it is increasingly important that the pharmaceutical industry is able to speak to its audience on a more personal level.

Real people
Photography is the simplest entry point for any communication around medicine, and more often than not, a portrait of another human enables people to make a connection that is reassuring and removes some of the barriers to medicine that can make it seem 'alien'. Getty Images' research highlights an increase in the use of real people in advertising. Featuring imagery of real people instead of models in communication adds a new level of authenticity and helps to increase confidence.

Due to the UK's legal restrictions on consumer advertising in the pharmaceutical industry, there are far fewer examples of marketing with real impact than there are in the US. A recent campaign from the NHS, however, which aimed to promote baby, teen and mid-life checks, really highlights the shift to using testimonial photography (Figure 1). The campaign features close-up portraits of real people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and embraces the consumer's desire to identify with the subject.

Figure 1: A recent NHS campaign using testimonial photography

 'Am I doing it right?' - a young girl holding a baby

'Am I doing OK?' - An elderly gentleman

'Am I normal?' - a teenage boy

This 'slice of life' imagery has helped the NHS build a connection with consumers and make them feel that they are understood.

Additionally the imagery reinforces the message behind the campaign that good health is vital to your wellbeing, playing on the consumers' shift in attitude towards personal happiness as an indication of success.

Real places
This trend towards authentic imagery of real people is taken one step further, especially in the UK market, with a noted rise in the use of regional-specific imagery (Figure 2). The central theme of real people is still very much at the heart of the image, but the regional setting adds another layer of authenticity. Further to this, the rural settings of many of these images increases the feeling of wellbeing, which speaks to the new consumer, who has moved away from a monetary-based evaluation of success.

Figure 2: Regional imagery adds another layer of authenticity

Family looking at a field while resting on a fence

An elderly woman in the countryside

Children drawing on the cast covering a broken leg

A group of people sitting in the countryside

Creating this human connection is central to overall pharmaceutical marketing image trends, but the industry equally needs to project the feeling of authority and confidence. Pharmaceutical marketing often needs to demystify the world of medicine, as many people do not understand it and put a large amount of faith in healthcare providers. Pharmaceutical marketing also needs to communicate confidence and convey trust that a particular medication or treatment is going to work.

Today patients have access to information through the internet and can research illnesses, medications and alternative treatment options, however, many still expect the reassurance of authority embodied in the images of experts at work.

Real emotions
Clearly, the audience for pharmaceutical marketing has become much savvier, moving towards a world of collaboration between doctors, medical staff, researchers and their patients. This shift needs to be reflected in a pharmaceutical company's brand communication. Showing the doctor-patient relationship as a combination of expertise and warm bedside manner reassures patients that their wellbeing is actually at the centre of healthcare.

Another trend that Getty Images has noted in its research is the rise in the use of black and white photography. It is important to get the balance right between using real people and conveying the authority and expertise that consumers are looking for. Stripping the colour out of images enables pharmaceutical marketers to highlight the 'human' qualities of doctors and nurses, combining the real and the authoritative into one image and focusing on the emotions in the photograph.

Figure 3: Black and white imagery combines the real and the authoritative

A carer comforting an elderly patient

Demonstrating impact
Ultimately, underpinning Getty Images' findings in pharmaceutical marketing is an overall trend away from a focus on the scientific breakthroughs behind many new medical offerings. Instead pharmaceutical marketers are moving towards demonstrating the impact a particular product or treatment can have on the individual's quality of life.

Photography can have a huge impact if used effectively in brand communications and the idiom 'a picture speaks a thousand words' really does ring true. In the pharmaceutical arena, to be successful an image must make an immediate connection with the onlooker by reflecting their personal experiences or emulating a scene from their life.

The pharmaceutical industry must constantly connect with people in a profound way around important, often complex and difficult human issues. They must show that they understand people's fears, hopes and emotions, and prove they have the expertise to help. Ultimately, putting real people in the centre of communication helps gain trust and builds confidence.


Micha SchwingThe Author
Micha (or Michaela) Schwing
studied photo-design and advertising and market communication in Germany. Since 2005 she has held various roles in the creative team at Getty Images in Munich and Seattle. Currently she is working as creative planning manager in London, where she supports the development of the creative stills offering through the observation and analysis of current trends in media and advertising as well as qualitative and quantitative product analysis.

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10th January 2011


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