The Myth of the “Big Idea” in Pharma

The Myth of the “Big Idea” in Pharma

We’ve all seen it. The famous “beach ad” in pharma…. an ad featuring smiling people at the beach that tested right to “the middle” — sure not to offend anyone or have any kind of impact. So how did this type of ad become so commonplace? Well, years ago as the pharma industry evolved, the core tenets of traditional consumer advertising were brought into its sphere. Large consumer advertising agencies pedaled their wares and approaches into the highly regulated and complex pharma industry. Creative briefs focused on the “big brand idea,” while rigorous market research testing was introduced to vet ideas and execution strategies. Thus began a process that got us to the unexciting spot the industry is in today.

There are many problems with this traditional approach, starting with a discussion over who the real consumer is. Most pharma campaigns are designed with a health care professional target (HCP) in mind. But HCPs don’t experience the medications produced by the industry — patients do. So when you test creative and messaging with physicians, you get some very common themes. “Efficacy, safety and ease of use” are the most important things to them — always. On the creative side of the equation, images that show patients who feel and look better after taking a medication score well in research — smiling patients are even better! Then you layer on legal/regulatory guidance and the associated fair balance and you have a glut of communications and ads that look and sound pretty much the same. Millions of dollars later, it is highly likely that you have a campaign that enters into a “sea of sameness,” blurring into everything else out there. While this could be seen as a somewhat cynical view, it is more often than not true.

So what if you started with the real customer — the patient? What if you really understood their human motivations, beliefs and behaviors? What if you understood what made them tick, how they dealt with the disease or condition and how they interacted with their health care providers? What if you really understood the potential “intervention points” when you can really make a change in how they manage their health? What if your “big idea” centered on patient insights and how those insights reflect back to HCPs when patients speak to them in the office? What if your creative and communications efforts anchored on real insights about the patient? What if you “closed the loop” of communications between all stakeholders (HCPs, patient, payers, etc.)? What if your communications efforts made a real difference and created a long-term relationship between the solutions you provide and the patients who experience them first hand?

We can do better. Let’s leave “pharma beach” and begin to develop a relationship for life… one that really matters.