Lessons from the Less-Regulated Side—What Pharma Can Learn from CPG Marketers

A common sentiment among pharma marketers is that they don’t have the same creative freedom as their consumer-packaged goods (CPG) counterparts who don’t have to worry about receiving a warning letter from the FDA or finding a way to fit important safety information (ISI) in all of their campaigns, among other things. And yet, every so often pharma marketers are told to be more like CPG marketers. Is this possible? What lessons can pharma actually apply from CPG marketing? To find out, we asked five marketers who either currently work with CPG brands or once did to share details about a campaign they worked on and what pharma marketers can take from it to improve their own strategies.

Durex Canada

Durex Canada: Don’t Be Afraid to Be Bold

For Durex Canada (Reckitt), we recently launched a new brand platform that set the stage for a distinct, ownable, and adaptable message with staying power: Nothing Feels Better. The new creative assets helped Durex achieve their highest local market share ever. Ironically, the tagline was an idea we almost left off the table as we just didn’t think client, legal, and regulatory would go for it. Lesson learned: Always bring bold ideas to the table, and don’t make the client’s decision for them.

The campaign strategy was simple: Bring pleasure and protection together. How do we do that? First and foremost, connect with the consumer on an emotional level by letting them see themselves and their shared experiences in the creative. The platform then empowers people to say no to potential partners who try any excuse in the book to avoid using protection, all the while equating true pleasure to the feeling of freedom that protection brings. The tagline, which could be taken for an absolute at face value (typically a no go in traditional pharma), has flexibility in that nothing feels better than feeling consented, respected, protected, or being present in the moment. Diversity of race, gender, sexuality, and situation—mixed with striking camera work, bold supers, bold statements, and bold attitude—were paramount to creating a genuine vibe and storylines. In this case, safe sex sells.

The overall lesson: Once you’ve uncovered your insights, and get to know your audience, brands and agencies should always partner to push for bold creative that can be recognized and resonate.

–Jeff Abracen, VP, Creative Strategy, BAM Strategy

Gorton’s Seafood

Gorton’s Seafood: The Power of Truth

Oftentimes, what pharma marketing needs is an outside perspective that embraces human truths instead of medical expertise. A truth like this: When we lack the knowledge, we become intimidated.

That’s the truth we had to overcome when helping Gorton’s Seafood sell their products. Most people are intimidated by cooking fish at home because they don’t know how to prepare it, what recipes to use, and whether it will be accepted by the family. Once we eliminated those barriers and provided information on the benefits of seafood through empathy and authenticity, they were much more willing to make the decision to purchase.

The creative platform was built on the idea of TRUST that has surrounded the Gorton’s brand for years. But to be authentic, we couldn’t simply tell consumers to trust us. Even with years of advertising using their famous jingle “Trust the Gorton’s fisherman,” we had to earn it. That led to the creation of fictional characters who know the sea best, speaking on behalf of the fisherman and ultimately the brand. Characters such as Poseidon, MerBros, and a Castaway. They spoke to the healthful benefits of seafood in a way that was engaging and entertaining, allowing the product’s reasons to believe (RTB) to land successfully. The “Trusted by those who know” campaign gave the brand an 11.6% sales lift.

When it comes to healthy eating or overall well-being, uncertainty can lead to confusion and rigidity. If we can spend more time talking to people like human beings, we will be far more successful in developing work that’s not only differentiating, but drives results.

–Alyssa Toro, Chief Creative Officer, Connelly Partners


Milo’s: Optimizing Exposure Drives Brand Impact

In the Summer of 2021, Milo’s (a manufacturer of refrigerated ready-to-drink ice teas) was chosen to be featured in a national broadcast campaign by Walmart highlighting American jobs. Intermark Group proposed research and a social media campaign for Milo’s to optimize the opportunity.

The Walmart commercial portrayed a real operational manager at Milo’s manufacturing and distribution facility along with messaging that connects how purchasing Milo’s from Walmart helps the business expand and gives employees more opportunities to improve the communities where they work. Rather than simply enjoying the additional exposure, we partnered with Milo’s to leverage the initiative through a modest incremental social media and PR campaign.

As one of America’s largest psychology-focused marketing agencies, Intermark recognized the Mere Exposure Effect (familiarity drives preference) presented significant potential for the Milo’s brand within low penetration markets. Pre- and post-campaign research showed aided awareness, consideration, and usage all increased significantly. The results underscored the impact broad media spend has in developing markets, which helped senior management to confidently invest for further brand support.

–Josh Simpson, Chief Strategy Officer, Intermark Group

The J.M. Smucker Company Coffee Brands

The J.M. Smucker Company Coffee Brands: Own the Search Results

When I worked on J.M. Smucker years ago in a previous role, the company had multiple coffee brands (including Folgers, Café Bustelo, Café Pilon, Dunkin’ at Home, Medaglia d’Oro, and 1850) that competed in the search results. The client wasn’t sure if there was value in showing multiple brands for the same search result versus dividing the coffee terms among brands. We needed a solve to understand if their money devoted to search was being well spent.

In order to own the search results, we developed a bid stacking strategy to align search positions with performance by coffee-related keywords across the portfolio. We implemented a bid stacking test to determine which position each brand should take for a particular term. So, we divided the pie in a way to keep them all visible versus trying to decide which brand should be assigned to a keyword. This improved performance significantly.

The lesson for pharma marketers with brands that have multiple treatments in the same area would be to leverage a similar strategy to own the search results.

–Erica N. Hawthorne, Owner, Principal Consultant, The People People


Wendy’s: Learn What Your Customers Want

Believe it or not, pharma marketers can learn much from fast food. Fast food promotion is non-stop, with brands battling 24/7 to stay top of mind for consumers. It’s a competitive market crowded with campaigns. The only way to cut through is by connecting with human truth.

We recently developed a campaign with Wendy’s to relaunch their fries. Fries are business critical as a staggering 70% of fast-food orders include them. However, our client knew that when people thought of fries they didn’t think “Wendy’s.” We decided to change that.

Through talking (and listening) to customers we learned a simple human truth: nobody likes cold and soggy fries. That insight inspired an operational and marketing effort to rethink manufacturing and marketing to deliver better fries. Hotter. Crispier.

To promote them, we launched a campaign guaranteeing customers that if their fries weren’t hot and crispy, we’d replace them. We amplified it over all channels: including TV, in restaurant, radio, and social. It was a recipe for success—it galvanized traffic and sales rocketed without requiring any of the usual discounts.

In its purest form, marketing is the “customer manufacturing department.” Success comes from understanding—up front—what customers need and designing products and experiences around it. Just like Wendy’s new-improved fries. Marketing hinges on authentic insight. It’s “the creative use of truth.”

The message for healthcare? It’s all about listening to patients. They’re the human truth that sparks creativity. Their biggest challenges are often hiding in plain sight—too obvious to notice, but too important to overlook. We need to listen, learn, and respond.

–Jen McDonald, Chief Client Officer, NA, VMLY&R


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