During the 2014 Super Bowl, Grey worked with Volvo on “The Greatest Interception”—a way to advertise during the game without actually paying for a commercial. Instead, Volvo hijacked rival car company ads with a contest on Twitter for a new Volvo XC60. Anytime a car commercial aired during the big game, people could nominate someone to win the car via a tweet with the hashtag “#VolvoContest.” In those four hours of game time, Volvo received 50,000 tweets and nearly 200MM earned media impressions—making it the most talked about car company on social media during the Super Bowl.

PM360 asked our readers for their best pie-in-the-sky social media ideas that could get patients talking in the same way that Volvo did. These are the six best ideas we received along with one person who feels pharma should aim higher.

1. Jingle Jam Session


Kendra Fanara
Product Director, NA Marketing
Johnson & Johnson


You want a social media idea with potential? I have three words for you: Jingle Jam Session. A pharma company that manufactures a treatment for a specific disease (diabetes, for example) uses social media to connect with a disease-specific audience and advertise their upcoming Jingle Jam Session.

Groups would get together online to choose a famous song and rewrite the lyrics to tell a story of how a disease has affected them—and how the pharma company’s product has helped change their lives in a positive way. Groups can be organized by state of residence. For example, individuals affected by diabetes in Texas could rewrite the lyrics to a Taylor Swift song to reflect their experience dealing with diabetes. Collectively, the group rewrites the lyrics. Then, individual members would sing one line of their new, disease-specific song. The songs unite patients and advocates (potentially for the first time) in a joint effort to raise awareness for their specific diseases and experiences as well as the pharma company’s product that helped change their lives.

The pharma company would then collect all the jingles, and the group behind the winning jingle earns an opportunity to meet the famous artist who originally sung the song.

2. Cover Cost of Treatment Contest


Caleb Freeman
Director, Digital Strategy
Calcium USA

The rising cost of medical care is an increasingly topical and often controversial subject. A brave pharma company has the opportunity to leverage the conversation around cost by offering to cover a year’s worth of out-of-pocket costs for a patient or patients. Leveraging social media, pharma brands could ask patients to “Tell us your story” through a hashtag campaign.

Pharma marketers could partner with an advocacy group working within a disease state to increase credibility of the campaign, increase distribution of the campaign among patients, and ultimately assist in choosing the winning patients. Patients would tweet what drives them to wake up every day and keep fighting their disease. If the hashtag campaign is disease-state focused, the regulatory burden would be minimal. Pharma manufacturers could promote the hashtag campaign as a corporate initiative so that no specific drug would be directly tied to the campaign.

Interviewing the top tweeters and posting footage across other platforms such as YouTube and Facebook could broaden reach of the campaign. Social media monitoring tools would identify positive sentiment and allow for engagement in a positive way with popular responses. The selection of winning entrants would also make an excellent public relations opportunity for the sponsoring pharma company.

3. Hijack National “Holidays”


Erik Miller
Director of Engagement Strategy
Discovery USA

It’d be fantastic to see pharma companies hijack some of the national “holidays” that mark our calendars. Diabetes product? Kick off a program on National Pancake Day. Flu vaccines? First day of school is the perfect opportunity.

These national “holidays” flood our social media experiences with hashtags. What if those hashtags were the key to unlocking a brand or disease experience that pays homage to Choose Your Own Adventure book series?

Your main character is the brand Twitter account, which is programmed to reach out to anyone who uses a predefined hashtag to start the story. Your character will be on a quest related to that hashtag and initiate a conversation by asking if that user is willing to help.

Users who agree to help are then taken on a journey that involves solving riddles, choosing between path A or B, and scavenger hunts. The quest would cross various social and online destinations all the while exposing them to the desired messaging or education.

This trackable engagement allows companies to have full visibility into how individuals engage with their brands. The data also provides an opportunity to roll up into infographics for internal distribution and promotion, and allows companies to claim a “holiday” as theirs.

4. “Day in the Life of” Documentaries


Misty Castaldi
User Experience/Digital Design Lead

Think of a concept like the reality TV shows “30 Days” or “Undercover Boss.” But in this case, executive-level employees of a pharma company would be inserted—along with a documentary team—into the lives of people with particular health conditions. The execs immerse themselves in the patients’ day-to-day routines and learn what it’s like to live with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, diabetes, asthma, psoriasis, depression, etc. The patients, in turn, learn how healthcare products are developed.

As part of the chronicle, the patient shadows the pharma executive at work for a day and meets the different people who help bring products to market. As a result, social awareness is raised regarding the impact of the health issue and the important work the pharma company is doing.

A Facebook campaign would promote story submissions from potential participants. Candidates would send in their stories with photos or videos about what it’s like to live with a particular health issue. To encourage story submissions, the pharma company would pledge to donate to advocacy groups for the health issues being showcased.

The initiative could play out across social media in various ways, including posting the documentaries on YouTube, daily posts of the experience on Facebook and Twitter, and behind-the-scenes photos on Pinterest, Snapchat, and/or Instagram.

5. Facebook Live


Erika Brown
Social Media Lead

We know 500 million people watch Facebook videos every day, consuming 100 million hours of content. So what if pharma brands leveraged the newly launched Facebook Live platform to deliver interactive video content on specific health conditions?

Consider MS. Instead of trying to get users to “like” our page, we host a live stream to discuss lifestyle considerations around this chronic condition. Led by panels of top influencers, patients, and doctors, the discussion features straight talk and interaction about things relevant to people living with MS. Users can leave comments on the live video for panelists to address during the Live event, but the panelists also pose questions to the community. Those participating respond within the comments and the influencers share some of those stories on the Live feed.

The idea of the session being “live” will be scary for pharma. Most pharma-related discussions are structured to ensure that risky topics don’t arise. Here, we’re opening the door for these discussions to happen, within reason. There would still be a layer of compliance, but Facebook Live would offer an open, honest, and raw platform for these discussions. As an added benefit, brands could gather information about their target audiences in a more natural environment and possibly uncover hidden truths that they might not otherwise have considered.

6. “The Things People Do to Support a Drug Habit”


Jason Levy
SVP, Experience Strategy & Innovation
Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness  

Pharma can play a more prominent role in sparking conversations across the social web by empowering audiences to rally around a cause. A very relevant and rational cause is the escalating cost of treatment, especially its impact on the elderly. Catalyzing engagement without a contest requires focusing beyond the rational. Never powered by reason alone, humans are moved to action by emotion. Whether it’s the latest Upworthy campaign, Always’ “Like a Girl,” or the classic ALS Challenge, engagement can be attributed to emotion.

Many pharma companies offer financial assistance. The cost conversation provides an opportunity to elevate this offering above taglines, ads, and CTAs. What if a company stepped into social, open kimono, to address cost? What if multiple companies joined forces like we saw fast food do on World Peace Day?

One concept could be “The Things People Do to Support a Drug Habit.” Imagine images and videos of “seniors of the night” outside CVS, others stealing from parked cars, pushing ED pills, or selling dentures hung inside an overcoat. Outrageous, emotive content that organically drives conversation among caregivers and seniors—a fast-growing social population. We could potentially drive donations with pharma companies matching funds raised. It’s time we had this dialogue and pharma can take a lead role. Pharma just needs to be prepared for the candor.

7. Rise Above Gimmicky Campaigns


Wendy Blackburn
Executive Vice President
Intouch Solutions

When we look at ways to use social media to co-opt conversations around consumer brands, many examples present themselves. But when we look at it for pharma specifically, we must consider how our particular industry fares in bold marketing moves. Creating buzz for giving away a car is vastly different from creating buzz around medications.

Medications are something people rarely fall in love with—they represent a reminder that something is “wrong.” Even those that are life-changing don’t naturally spawn a positive social media groundswell. Look at the hepatitis C category. The industry developed breakthrough treatments to cure a severe illness, yet the national conversation circles around pricing.

There are cases for social disease-awareness campaigns—the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge comes to mind. And regarding the propensity for driving widespread BRANDED conversations in the social space, exceptions may include products in what some consider the “lifestyle” category, such as aesthetics or erectile dysfunction. But even here, we question the appropriateness of a gimmicky campaign whose purpose is simply to generate brand buzz—and so would the media, the public and, perhaps, the FDA.

Pharma marketing doesn’t need to resort to pale copies of other industries’ social media tactics. Health is our most prized possession, worth more than any free car. Our engagements should be positioned accordingly.


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