Could This Work for Pharma? Inspiration from Outside Industries

Could this work for pharma? It is a question that any marketer in our industry should ask when they see a successful campaign from another industry. Of course, not everything will. Other industries aren’t restricted by the same regulations as pharma. But that doesn’t mean pharma can’t learn marketing lessons from other industries. Sometimes it might mean pushing boundaries, other times it might be something simple but still effective.

PM360 asked respondents with various levels of experience to explore campaigns and tactics used by marketers in consumer packaged goods, retail, and other industries to give pharma some fresh ideas. The first three respondents are familiar with both sides of the aisle, having worked for companies or on campaigns outside of pharma as well as within the industry. We asked them to tell us what they learned from outside of pharma that can be applied to our industry. The rest of the respondents are pharma marketers who we asked to tell us what non-pharma campaigns inspired or impressed them, and then let us know what pharma can learn from them.

Amy S. Smith


“Shopper Marketing” is a dynamic area of the business that has moved from a tactical function to a strategic enabler of growth. While many definitions exist, momentum continues to build in the CPG world.

Marketing works when it’s relevant to consumers’ lives, fulfills their needs and desires, and connects emotionally. Shopper Marketing offers a holistic approach to reaching consumers with an integrated message, through multiple points along their path to purchase. It is essential to develop a strategic platform, which is a core idea that transcends brand and often category boundaries. It provides a new way of viewing products, based on emotional drivers, that leads people to break through the barriers of traditional purchasing patterns.

The store remains an ideal marketing canvas and a critical touchpoint to reach and influence shoppers. Relevance and value are the main ingredients to optimize shopper engagement and conversion. While specific approaches differ, common principles apply across CPG categories, and are applicable to pharma:

  • Targeting is important to reach high-potential customers.
  • In-store activity should extend out-of-store campaign.
  • Retailer partnership is essential.
  • Providing a “solution” is paramount to enhancing the shopper’s experience and delivering incremental value that goes beyond any individual product or price promotion.

A simplistic example: Secondary location merchandising can be a means to deliver convenience, new information, or a call to action. When cereals are displayed with fresh fruit, snacks are in a back-to-school display, or information for a new prescription medication resides in the OTC aisle, they can help provide actionable solutions for shoppers involved with these categories.

In order to be successful, shopper marketing must be fully integrated into the business management process. Key enablers of success: Deep shopper insights, measurement within the context to total brand building efforts, enhanced manufacturer/retailer collaboration, and organization alignment.

Trish Nettleship


In my role as Head of Social Media for business at AT&T, I decided one of the best ways to position AT&T as an innovator in new areas of business (i.e., cloud, security, etc.) was to create a thought leadership campaign, leveraging our role as a leader in mobile as a starting point. The focal point was a blog, with various social channel extensions that provided content that helped our audience achieve their goals. The campaign created a positive experience for our audience and a new touch point with AT&T while simultaneously elevating the brand into new areas and positioning AT&T as a leader in technologies.

Launching this type of integrated campaign across digital, F2F sales reps, and newer emerging channels was a first for the company. Our leadership was initially very uncomfortable with the new approach but was willing to take a risk. We launched within four months of the first concept discussion, and within three months we were at 100k visitors per month.

What I Brought to Pharma

When I first started in pharma, I was surprised at how rarely social media was leveraged across the industry. Even in 2012, we knew many patients and even HCPs were going online and to social media to gain knowledge. I also knew about the regulatory and legal concerns and that in order to make leadership and legal colleagues comfortable, it was imperative to get them involved early and have them co-create the solution with us. So, we built a core team with representation from legal, regulatory, and compliance to help us find ways to explore this area in a compliant manner. That was four years ago and those same team members still come to me with new ideas for social media activities because of their genuine excitement over what we created together.

Frank Pettinato


To successfully engage with consumers, you first have to meet them where they are interacting with brands, and provide timely omni-channel interactions to satisfy their need. In today’s “always-on” society, you need to be available any time, in the channel of choice, and allow the consumer to jump from channel to channel while maintaining consistency. This is true whether your consumer has a question about a food product they purchased at the grocery store or a medication prescribed by their doctor. You must provide exceptional customer service no matter the vehicle—social media, phone, email, SMS/texting, live chat, and beyond. Pharma seems to be open to embracing this same strategy, but regulatory issues and patient privacy concerns may be holding the industry back.

What Works in CPG

In CPG, implementing online live chat solutions for customer care has been incredibly successful. Research finds that customers have higher rates of satisfaction after a live chat conversation than after using another form of customer support, such as email, phone, or social media. From a technology and operational standpoint, there’s no reason live chat could not be implemented in pharma. In fact, the appeal of live chat is that it is private—making it an ideal channel for answering confidential medication questions that a patient may not prefer to ask over the phone or in an email.

We’re also looking into ways to modernize and maximize traditional channels, such as phone support. We’re exploring speech recognition technology with sentiment analysis that reads the emotion of the caller and transcribes audio call files to text. In pharma applications, this added layer of data allows for enhanced integrity, the ability to capture caller trends, and perhaps uncover adverse events or product quality complaints that may have otherwise been overlooked.

Anthony Campisi


What Campaign Inspired You?


During the Summer Olympics, one of the most memorable ad campaigns was “Thank you, Mom” by Procter & Gamble ( The campaign used emotion to capture our hearts—and our attention. It also played off a universal theme—the love of a mother for her child.

This campaign ( gave the viewer a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the personal lives of the athletes. Moms everywhere were secretly patting themselves on the back, thankful for P&G giving credit where credit is due.

The campaign went beyond the TV ads ( P&G created a website,, to support the campaign. (It now redirects to the P&G Everyday site.) The campaign also was promoted on social media with the hashtag #thankyoumom, with separate Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest sites.

What Pharma Can Learn

A campaign with a similar theme could be very successful for pharma marketing by simply changing one word of the tagline: “Thank you, [insert person/organization].” Insert a hospital name, and promote a cancer or pediatric center (the latter complete with crayon-drawn thank-you notes from pediatric patients). Insert a physician’s name to promote a private practice or hospital specialty. Insert the name of a drug or pharmaceutical company to promote a life-saving or life-enhancing drug. Or go the less promotional route and thank family members and/or friends for supporting them through a medical ordeal. The list goes on. We like to call this type of marketing a GrAttitude Campaign.

Any message you choose must resonate across a broad audience, yet be so moving as to touch each viewer on a personal level. Kudos to P&G for accomplishing both.

Laura Bartmess


What Campaign Inspired You?


If you’ve been on Facebook, then you’ve almost certainly seen those quick step-by-step cooking videos from Tasty!, TipHero, or Delish. Even if you only go on Facebook to see what small-brained political opinions your cousin Kenny posted or to enviously view photos of your college roommate’s trip to the Galapagos, you may have found yourself watching one of these videos.

And you probably even watched the whole thing. Because even if you have no desire to make skillet cheeseburger mac and cheese, the videos are so fast and engaging, they’re over before you realize you watched it. That’s the beauty of Facebook (or the Internet for that matter)—it’s a haven for diversion and sidetracks. And really, isn’t that what we’re trying to do when we market our brands? Catch the attention of someone receptive to our message, and divert them to our story?

What Pharma Can Learn

We’re all doing more video, and are continually looking for ways to break through the clutter. How could we leverage this type of video format in pharma? It certainly lends itself to a step-by-step enrollment process for a patient support program. Or how about a video showing the symptoms of progression for a rare disease to help patients self-identify? Or perhaps this format could be used to show nurses how to navigate the prescription process for a specialty pharmacy product requiring a PA? This consumer-friendly video approach may have a place in healthcare—food for thought.

Marty Canniff


What Campaign Inspired You?


As part of a road-safety campaign, Australia’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) recently unveiled Graham, a vision of a human being who has evolved to survive car crashes. Graham is disturbingly life-like: Huge skull, no neck, a ribcage with liquid spewing “air bags,” and gazelle-like lower limbs—he was created to show people how vulnerable we are while driving.

TAC’s visually and emotionally jarring approach to the problem of connecting with the public about road safety was unique and inspiring. Rather than educate people on the tragedy of auto-related deaths with a metaphor or visual of a mangled person, they reframed the problem by looking broader and closer, and by thinking younger.

Broader: Public service campaigns urging people to drive more safely essentially trigger the same emotions and focus on the aftermath of a crash, so we’re sort of immune to them.

Closer: Car safety has evolved, but people remain vulnerable. Roads can be dangerous. People still crash. As long as an impact happens, people will still get hurt or die.

Younger: Cars have evolved, but it’s still not enough. What if humans evolved to survive, or be unscathed, no matter the crash? What would that evolution look like?

What Pharma Can Learn

Reframing the problem by shifting our perspective is invaluable. Graham’s one-of-a-kind appearance created a buzz in the media and online. Graham is making in-person appearances around Australia. The “Meet Graham” website brings the development process to life and makes the science of it entertaining. It also has a lasting effect on how the public thinks about road safety, which is no easy feat.

Making an impression in the modern daily cacophony of information assault is increasingly difficult. Using an approach that helps uniquely reframe the problem clears the path for creative solutions that stand apart.

Elliott Smith


What Campaign Inspired You?


More than ever, consumers are demanding transparency and authenticity from the companies with whom they engage. Grocers, such as Whole Foods, show the providence of the food on their shelves, and even Apple, as slick as their ads are, has moved away from their epic ads of the past to consumer-focused stories about how technology helps capture unique and personal moments.

Pharma companies, on the other hand, have hung onto the old standard of highly polished, staged scenarios using actors. However, if they want to show they’re truly patient-centric, perhaps it’s time to move to an approach that truly reflects the lives of their patients in an authentic way.

A recent example from which we can take inspiration is a campaign by UK-based telecom giant TalkTalk ( Seemingly inspired by Reality TV, they put cameras in the home of a real family and used touching footage in their ads that shows the role of the telecom’s products in the family members’ lives.

What Pharma Can Learn

Imagine doing that for transformative treatments. Instead of showing walks on the beach, this type of campaign could acknowledge that life, with all its imperfect chaos, can still be a source of enormous joy with the right relationships. The patient would be the star, and the product a support character. Now that’s putting patients at the center!

Jennifer L. Rodriguez


What Campaign Inspired You?


The Olympics have come and gone but Dove’s most recent evolution of their Real Beauty campaign still lingers on my mind. This newest extension of the long-running campaign challenges the media’s portrayal of women athletes and demands they focus on ability versus looks. Not only does this challenge resonate from a humanistic standpoint, it is yet another example of how Dove uses the power of social media for successful marketing.

Dove continually engages us with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube—the largest and oldest forms of social media. They have become a part of our daily digital digestion. Let’s consider, Twitter has approximately 800 million users a month and 82% of those users actively engage with brands, while Facebook has approximately 1.44 billion users a month and 49% support branded pages. Those numbers are staggering, and we in pharma would be well served to start leveraging these engagement touch points. It is safe to assume that healthcare professionals represent some of these millions and billions (respectively) so why not go where we know they are?

What Pharma Can Learn

To date in the pharmaceutical world, there has been understandable reluctance to leverage social media. While it is true that the FDA guidelines on social media remain vague, our vast knowledge of pharmaceutical marketing and experience navigating FDA parameters should trump this reluctance. We are in the perfect position to lead our clients, including their medical/legal review teams, and help them feel more comfortable with utilizing social media. Similar to Dove’s example, we need to challenge ourselves to find ways to push the boundaries responsibly and prove that when done well, pharmaceutical marketing on social media can be nimble and memorable.

Michael Sanzen


What Campaign Inspired You?


Author Alexa Clay advised at the 4A’s Strategy Festival in October: Learn from those who make you uncomfortable. When I search the general consumer space for a brand we could all learn from, I immediately think of the brave folks at Domino’s led by their fearless agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

With a brilliant campaign they did what so many of us struggle to do with our brands and in our personal lives—they admitted they’d been wrong. It’s amazing the empathy and support you can garner from your fellow imperfect human beings when you own up to a mistake.

Domino’s admitted that their relentless pursuit of speed had distracted them from one of their most critical missions—providing high-quality food to their loyal customers. They trashed their product in front of all of America, apologized, promised to make amends, and asked for forgiveness. They even allowed their customers to weigh in on the process so that they could be part of the solution. And Domino’s has been forgiven in spades, with five straight years of consistent, same-store sales growth.

What Pharma Can Learn

In this case, authenticity was used to reconnect with the hearts and minds of customers. Could we use a little authenticity in pharma? Could we admit that we haven’t been perfect and are ready to put our time, money, and effort behind better products and/or services? I think we can. And I’d start with real support for customers who drive prescriptions more than any—the doctors, nurses, and office staff that have been spread thin by a system that consistently asks for more and returns less. Let’s go tell them that we’re sorry we haven’t been better partners and we promise to do better. Then, let’s actually do it.

Steve Nelson


What Campaign Inspired You?


The recent PayPal advertising campaign, which aired during Super Bowl 50, has successfully re-launched an 18-year-old company to an entire generation of Millennials, some of whom, possibly, had never even heard of PayPal, even though it was a pioneer in the field of real-time web payments. Using a bold font, vibrant colors, and tapping into the power-pop audios of the recent Demi Lovato hit “Confident,” PayPal reminded its users that sending friends or family money is still easy, still free, and still widely popular.

What Pharma Can Learn

The pharmaceutical industry should survey its own landscape for existing products that have perhaps drifted out of the younger generation’s consciousness. A century-old product such as Bayer’s Aspirin, for instance, is probably found in a majority of American households, but will it be found there tomorrow? Bayer may look to the under-30 market to see if tomorrow’s fathers and mothers already have a brand preference for headaches and, if not, whether they even know the name of Aspirin. Time-tested medicine must still meet the new marketing needs of every new generation of patients. Pharma marketers can pull from contemporary music, media, film, and photography, the way that PayPal rebranded its visual identity without rebuilding its core technology platform, succeeding in covering a critical new marketing landscape.


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