What Pharma Can Learn from Pringles

Yes, Pringles. The potato chip. Actually, technically speaking, they are potato crisps. Crisps or chips, I realized that there’s something that Pringles can teach pharma and healthcare. First, some backstory and a disclosure.

Last week was the Cannes Advertising Festival. It’s the Oscars of the ad world for those who aren’t familiar. The awards are given out in many different categories, but since this is a blog focused on e-marketing, I’m going to just talk about the “Cyber” category, which is all about digital. The Cyber awards represent the best of the best in digital marketing in every industry. Why do I suddenly care so much about the Cannes awards and Pringles? Well, our agency, Bridge Worldwide, happens to be the digital agency of record for Pringles. And, we created a banner ad (yes, banner ad) that won a Gold Cyber Lion award.

The more I looked at the ad, the more I thought that it just might relate to pharma. How can a Pringles banner ad tell us anything about digital marketing in pharma and healthcare? Great question. First, before we move on, check out the ad. Follow this link to check out “Can Hands.” The banner’s in the lower right…just keep clicking as long as you’d like. People who have commented on the ad call it “the only banner you’ll love to click.” You need to check it out for the rest of the post to make sense, so we’ll wait.

Pringles Can Hands Banner Bridge Worldwide

Now, if that didn’t at least amuse you, I’m not sure what else to tell you. I’m getting to the tie-in with pharma, but just so you know, I’m not going for some cheap publicity for this ad by writing about it here. It doesn’t need my help. Much to our surprise, this ad was (and still is) the talk of the Internet over the weekend. It’s showed up on the front pages of Reddit, Fark, and Buzzfeed. Of course, it’s been all over Twitter as well with well over 2000 tweets and more than 14,000 clicks on the shortened bit.ly URL alone. The link to the ad demo was the 4th most tweeted on all of Twitter on Saturday according to Twitturly. Without giving away too much confidential information, this ad has been viewed more than 125,000 times in the past two days. People going out of their way to see an ad.

So why am I telling you this? Simple, does anyone ever go out of their way to see your ad?

Let’s get a few things out in the open. Consumer packaged goods isn’t pharma. I know it. Remember, I used to be a pharma marketer, so I haven’t forgotten the rules. Pringles has a whole different set of rules compared to pharma. I know it. I also know that potato crisps or chips or whatever isn’t the same as treating a disease. Got it. But, let’s put that all aside for just a minute. Let’s look at what’s possible. For me, this is the only way we find things that are truly different, unique, and stand out with our customers.

Imagine that Pringles was a pharma product for a minute. There’s no fair balance here, but it wouldn’t require it. The brand name is mentioned (if you click a few times), but nowhere does it include the “indication:” potato crisps. I guess this makes this banner a reminder ad then.

We pharma people love and hate reminder ads. We love them because we can promote the brand without the clutter of fair balance, but we hate them because we can’t get in any key messages. Regardless, pharma spends a lot of money on these. My point? If Pringles were pharma, this ad would be regulatory compliant. Just saying.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not recommending that every pharma company make an ad like this. The whole talk about regulations is all academic. No pharma ad could probably get away with this tone. I’m actually not recommending that anyone make an ad like this. It’s been done. No one can really create a “never-ending banner” like this one anymore. But what I am saying is that there’s something for pharma to learn here.

This is what pharma banner ads look like today:

Cymbalta Banner Ad Lipitor Banner Ad

Lyrica Banner Ad Premarin Banner Ad

The Premarin Banner (with the cloud) on the bottom at least has some animation, albeit odd and “icky” animation.

Premarin Ad 2

I’ll just leave it at that rather than ask a lot of questions about what purple rain has to do with vaginal dryness.

Now, don’t feel bad if you think you banner ad stinks. Most banner ads are terrible regardless of the industry. Pharma isn’t a special exception. But, as the Pringles banner shows, there’s a way to make any advertising interesting and engaging. It just requires looking at things differently. So instead of relying completely on agencies that only have pharma experience (and pair it up with ours that might be about the same), maybe it’s time to look beyond pharma to see how everyone else is doing it. We know that we can’t do the exact same things other industries might try because of regulatory issues, but I also know that doing the same things we’ve always done in pharma isn’t good enough anymore either. This might be one of the times where the answer lies outside of our industry.

To be sure, I’m not recommending that you run out and make banner ads. I have no idea if you need banner ads or if they are part of your strategy. I want you to look bigger picture and realize that there are whole groups of really smart people that we don’t listen to because they aren’t in the pharma club or don’t know the handshake. Last time I checked, the pharma industry wasn’t doing that well at least compared to historical results. Maybe there’s no time like the present to start trying a new approach. Your equivalent Pringles banner ad may be a really innovative disease management tool or amazing caregive support website. Just keep going until you make whatever it is you are doing something that you can imagine people sharing on Twitter. Do you think we thought this would happen for a banner ad for potato crisps? Yes and no.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting to work at my current company, it’s this: it takes very little extra effort to make something great. It takes a lot of effort something to get started and slightly more to make something good. Once you get to “good” though, there’s really not more you need to do in order to get to great. You do need the right people with the right kinds of thinking and the right amount of time and resources, but those are the ingredients. Of course, I’m making it sound really easy and leaving out one important piece: you need some brilliant creative people. It only takes one idea, but you need people who are constantly coming up with them to find the one. Fortunately, we happen to have these folks. (Read the blog “Can Hands” creator, Jason Bender, co-writes).

So, who’s ready to do things differently? If you are, but don’t see how it’s possible, here’s my offer: You pay for the normal costs to get to “good” and I’ll pay for the additional thinking required to make it great. Don’t think it’s possible to make something share-worthy in pharma? Then challenge us. I’m glad to make it public challenge if you’d like (and put the reputation of this blog on the line) just to be able to show that it’s possible. It’s time for something different in pharma and healthcare. The only question is who goes first. If you’re ready, head over to the contact page and let’s get started. One caveat…this has to start with a “big pharma” company because if it can be done there, then it can be done anywhere. So, if you’re a top 20 pharma company (and I know you’re here), you’re eligible for this offer.

We’re ready for your challenge. All this talk about Pringles is making me crave a Super Stack.

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21 Responses to “What Pharma Can Learn from Pringles”

  1. John Mack June 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Jon,

    Congrats on the Pringle banner ad award!

    But as for this being a model for pharma, I would say no because of my general distaste for drug reminder ads. These may be fine for a brand that is as well-recognized as Pringles, which has nothing really new to say about itself. But for a new drug, how can you justify such an ad?

    John

    John Mack’s last blog post..Does Novo’s Editing Suck the Life Out of Charlie Kimball? Yes, by Some Objective Measures.

  2. John Mack June 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Jon,

    Congrats on the Pringle banner ad award!

    But as for this being a model for pharma, I would say no because of my general distaste for drug reminder ads. These may be fine for a brand that is as well-recognized as Pringles, which has nothing really new to say about itself. But for a new drug, how can you justify such an ad?

    John

    John Mack’s last blog post..Does Novo’s Editing Suck the Life Out of Charlie Kimball? Yes, by Some Objective Measures.

    • Jonathan Richman June 29, 2009 at 2:29 pm #

      John, The point wasn’t that pharma should make a banner anything like this. The point was that digital creative (even in a banner ad for potato chips) can be interesting and engaging. There’s not too much of this in pharma and perhaps other industries might be a guide. So, yes, pharma shouldn’t copy Pringles’ banner ad, but they should copy the creativity.

      Jonathan

  3. John Mack June 29, 2009 at 8:12 am #

    Jon,

    Congrats on the Pringle banner ad award!

    But as for this being a model for pharma, I would say no because of my general distaste for drug reminder ads. These may be fine for a brand that is as well-recognized as Pringles, which has nothing really new to say about itself. But for a new drug, how can you justify such an ad?

    John

    John Mack’s last blog post..Does Novo’s Editing Suck the Life Out of Charlie Kimball? Yes, by Some Objective Measures.

    • Jonathan Richman June 29, 2009 at 10:29 am #

      John, The point wasn’t that pharma should make a banner anything like this. The point was that digital creative (even in a banner ad for potato chips) can be interesting and engaging. There’s not too much of this in pharma and perhaps other industries might be a guide. So, yes, pharma shouldn’t copy Pringles’ banner ad, but they should copy the creativity.

      Jonathan

  4. Paul Simms June 30, 2009 at 9:33 am #

    Hi Jon,

    I’ve been in Cannes for the past week (I’m still here!) and have felt thoroughly disheartened by the lack of healthcare or pharma appearance in any of the awards. In fact, out of the 6000+ people, the leading creatives of the marketing world, I found just one person, Sean Duffy of The Duffy Agency, had experience in pharma. And guess what – he came from a non-pharma background.

    On Saturday we had a two-hour chat about how we could help pharma become more creative, and witness some of the incredible progress the rest of the world is making when it comes to digital marketing. The fact is that pharma is fast being left behind – because pharma is, in many ways, competing with consumer attention for Pringles and the such like. But which banner would you be more inclined to click on?

    Paul Simms’s last blog post..Planning marketing budgets and allocations for measurable, profitable brand growth

    • Jonathan Richman June 30, 2009 at 12:04 pm #

      Paul.

      Outstanding comment. Thanks. I’ve been saying what you’re saying for years. ” The fact is that pharma is fast being left behind – because pharma is, in many ways, competing with consumer attention for Pringles and the such like.” This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, many pharma companies are happy when their creative work is better than the competitor in the same class, but they disregard even other healthcare sites where people might go. Forget about trying to capture someone’s attention when they are simply “surfing.” It’s just not going to happen. Pharma needs to realize that EVERYTHING online is their competitor when it comes to digital. If something is competing for your users’ time online, then you should consider them a competitor. In order to beat any competitor, you have to be better than they are and this includes digital.

      I’ve got a post coming out about this sometime this week as a matter of fact.

      Stay tuned.

  5. Paul Simms June 30, 2009 at 5:33 am #

    Hi Jon,

    I’ve been in Cannes for the past week (I’m still here!) and have felt thoroughly disheartened by the lack of healthcare or pharma appearance in any of the awards. In fact, out of the 6000+ people, the leading creatives of the marketing world, I found just one person, Sean Duffy of The Duffy Agency, had experience in pharma. And guess what – he came from a non-pharma background.

    On Saturday we had a two-hour chat about how we could help pharma become more creative, and witness some of the incredible progress the rest of the world is making when it comes to digital marketing. The fact is that pharma is fast being left behind – because pharma is, in many ways, competing with consumer attention for Pringles and the such like. But which banner would you be more inclined to click on?

    Paul Simms’s last blog post..Planning marketing budgets and allocations for measurable, profitable brand growth

    • Jonathan Richman June 30, 2009 at 8:04 am #

      Paul.

      Outstanding comment. Thanks. I’ve been saying what you’re saying for years. ” The fact is that pharma is fast being left behind – because pharma is, in many ways, competing with consumer attention for Pringles and the such like.” This is absolutely true. Unfortunately, many pharma companies are happy when their creative work is better than the competitor in the same class, but they disregard even other healthcare sites where people might go. Forget about trying to capture someone’s attention when they are simply “surfing.” It’s just not going to happen. Pharma needs to realize that EVERYTHING online is their competitor when it comes to digital. If something is competing for your users’ time online, then you should consider them a competitor. In order to beat any competitor, you have to be better than they are and this includes digital.

      I’ve got a post coming out about this sometime this week as a matter of fact.

      Stay tuned.

  6. Judy Seiler July 9, 2009 at 6:54 pm #

    Raise your hand if you’ve read the FDA’s New Guidance & Enforcement: Company Websites, Email & Online Advertising (5/09)

    • Jonathan Richman July 10, 2009 at 3:36 am #

      For those who have not raised your hand, get your copy of the draft guidance here (http://bit.ly/4kQ0Qp). I’m not sure what this comment is getting at, Judy, but I can only assume that you think the Pringles ad, if it were a pharma product ad, would be in violation of current and draft FDA rules. And, you’d be right. That wasn’t the point of the post. The post was all about how we’re lacking creativity at times in pharma marketing and that it’s possible to do better. No one could recreate the Pringles banner. It’s a one and done idea, but the creative process behind it can inform new ideas…ideas that pharma can use. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do compliant marketing in pharma that’s also creative.

    • Jonathan Richman July 10, 2009 at 3:36 am #

      For those who have not raised your hand, get your copy of the draft guidance here (http://bit.ly/4kQ0Qp). I’m not sure what this comment is getting at, Judy, but I can only assume that you think the Pringles ad, if it were a pharma product ad, would be in violation of current and draft FDA rules. And, you’d be right. That wasn’t the point of the post. The post was all about how we’re lacking creativity at times in pharma marketing and that it’s possible to do better. No one could recreate the Pringles banner. It’s a one and done idea, but the creative process behind it can inform new ideas…ideas that pharma can use. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do compliant marketing in pharma that’s also creative.

  7. Judy Seiler July 9, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    Raise your hand if you’ve read the FDA’s New Guidance & Enforcement: Company Websites, Email & Online Advertising (5/09)

    • Jonathan Richman July 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

      For those who have not raised your hand, get your copy of the draft guidance here (http://bit.ly/4kQ0Qp). I’m not sure what this comment is getting at, Judy, but I can only assume that you think the Pringles ad, if it were a pharma product ad, would be in violation of current and draft FDA rules. And, you’d be right. That wasn’t the point of the post. The post was all about how we’re lacking creativity at times in pharma marketing and that it’s possible to do better. No one could recreate the Pringles banner. It’s a one and done idea, but the creative process behind it can inform new ideas…ideas that pharma can use. Believe it or not, it’s possible to do compliant marketing in pharma that’s also creative.

  8. Judy Seiler July 11, 2009 at 3:06 am #

    Jonathan,

    You said: “I used to be a pharma marketer, so I haven’t forgotten the rules.” We’ll the rules recently got updated… Just wanted to make sure you knew. :-)

    Also, you said: “The last time I checked, the pharma industry wasn’t doing that well at least compared to historical results.” Sure, but neither is the insurance industry, the financial industry, the auto industry… yada, yada.

    Government seems to be growing very nicely however. And I just saw a headline that the wine industry seems to prospering (who would have guessed?)…

    Since you weren’t sure of my intent I’ll tell you: It was to push back a bit. I would have liked to have read a few concrete ideas along with your critique.
    You got my attention but left me dangling.

    As one famous TV ad noted: “Where’s the beef?”
    Redo a few big pharma ads in your next blog; don’t drop it here. If they are “out there” then you might just land a gig! :)

    - Judy

    • Jonathan Richman July 11, 2009 at 4:38 am #

      I’m not a big fan of back and forth commenting via a blog, so I’ll try to keep this short. The current state of the pharma industry is only very partially a result of the down economy. As you know, annual growth rates, gross and net margins, market share versus generics, and ultimately, earning per share have been in decline for the past 5-7 years. The average 15-20% growth rates that were typical for big pharma not that long ago have completely dried up and, in fact, this decline has been steady for some time and long before the current economic conditions.

      While I always appreciate a little push (check out all the comments on this blog), asking for concrete examples here seems…pardon me…absurd. You’ll recognize that most of my posts are pretty explicit about what the industry should do about a particular problem. When I explain that product reviews might be a good idea, I explain how from an operations standpoint it might be possible. When I turn to issues around mobile phone compatibility and optimization, I take the time to say precisely how to fix what’s wrong. See for yourself. Your challenge that I should have put together a few ideas for an engaging and creative banner for a pharma brand tells me why there might be an issue within the pharma industry and perhaps advertising in general. The Pringles ad is wonderfully creative (don’t just take my word for it, search Google for some more opinions), but it’s also built around the brand’s character, developed precisely with the target audience in mind, and (imagine this) conceived around some specific marketing objectives.

      All too often we set out and create concepts without this understanding and that’s why so much advertising falls flat. Which brand would you propose that I simply whip up a creative banner ad for this time? The next time your agency is struggling with a brief and has no idea how to bring it to life, I’ll take a look for you and post something here, but to create something like the Pringles ad for a brand about which I don’t know the specific details makes little sense. Proposing technical solutions or discussing how pharma companies might handle gaming as a marketing channel is one thing. It speaks to the industry as a whole and requires no specific insight into a particular brand. That’s what this blog is about. You won’t find anywhere on this blog me questioning a creative concept because I think that I know better. I may say that I don’t understand it, but perhaps it’s not for me to understand. As long as the target audience does, then it’s perfect. Without knowing these details, I’m just throwing rotten tomatoes and that gets no one anywhere.

      Therefore, if a big pharma company would like to share with me the same creative brief they gave to their current agency that resulted in any existing banner ad, I’ll be happy to take a look and post some alternatives right here on this blog.

    • Jonathan Richman July 11, 2009 at 4:38 am #

      I’m not a big fan of back and forth commenting via a blog, so I’ll try to keep this short. The current state of the pharma industry is only very partially a result of the down economy. As you know, annual growth rates, gross and net margins, market share versus generics, and ultimately, earning per share have been in decline for the past 5-7 years. The average 15-20% growth rates that were typical for big pharma not that long ago have completely dried up and, in fact, this decline has been steady for some time and long before the current economic conditions.

      While I always appreciate a little push (check out all the comments on this blog), asking for concrete examples here seems…pardon me…absurd. You’ll recognize that most of my posts are pretty explicit about what the industry should do about a particular problem. When I explain that product reviews might be a good idea, I explain how from an operations standpoint it might be possible. When I turn to issues around mobile phone compatibility and optimization, I take the time to say precisely how to fix what’s wrong. See for yourself. Your challenge that I should have put together a few ideas for an engaging and creative banner for a pharma brand tells me why there might be an issue within the pharma industry and perhaps advertising in general. The Pringles ad is wonderfully creative (don’t just take my word for it, search Google for some more opinions), but it’s also built around the brand’s character, developed precisely with the target audience in mind, and (imagine this) conceived around some specific marketing objectives.

      All too often we set out and create concepts without this understanding and that’s why so much advertising falls flat. Which brand would you propose that I simply whip up a creative banner ad for this time? The next time your agency is struggling with a brief and has no idea how to bring it to life, I’ll take a look for you and post something here, but to create something like the Pringles ad for a brand about which I don’t know the specific details makes little sense. Proposing technical solutions or discussing how pharma companies might handle gaming as a marketing channel is one thing. It speaks to the industry as a whole and requires no specific insight into a particular brand. That’s what this blog is about. You won’t find anywhere on this blog me questioning a creative concept because I think that I know better. I may say that I don’t understand it, but perhaps it’s not for me to understand. As long as the target audience does, then it’s perfect. Without knowing these details, I’m just throwing rotten tomatoes and that gets no one anywhere.

      Therefore, if a big pharma company would like to share with me the same creative brief they gave to their current agency that resulted in any existing banner ad, I’ll be happy to take a look and post some alternatives right here on this blog.

  9. Judy Seiler July 11, 2009 at 3:06 am #

    Jonathan,

    You said: “I used to be a pharma marketer, so I haven’t forgotten the rules.” We’ll the rules recently got updated… Just wanted to make sure you knew. :-)

    Also, you said: “The last time I checked, the pharma industry wasn’t doing that well at least compared to historical results.” Sure, but neither is the insurance industry, the financial industry, the auto industry… yada, yada.

    Government seems to be growing very nicely however. And I just saw a headline that the wine industry seems to prospering (who would have guessed?)…

    Since you weren’t sure of my intent I’ll tell you: It was to push back a bit. I would have liked to have read a few concrete ideas along with your critique.
    You got my attention but left me dangling.

    As one famous TV ad noted: “Where’s the beef?”
    Redo a few big pharma ads in your next blog; don’t drop it here. If they are “out there” then you might just land a gig! :)

    - Judy

  10. Judy Seiler July 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    Jonathan,

    You said: “I used to be a pharma marketer, so I haven’t forgotten the rules.” We’ll the rules recently got updated… Just wanted to make sure you knew. :-)

    Also, you said: “The last time I checked, the pharma industry wasn’t doing that well at least compared to historical results.” Sure, but neither is the insurance industry, the financial industry, the auto industry… yada, yada.

    Government seems to be growing very nicely however. And I just saw a headline that the wine industry seems to prospering (who would have guessed?)…

    Since you weren’t sure of my intent I’ll tell you: It was to push back a bit. I would have liked to have read a few concrete ideas along with your critique.
    You got my attention but left me dangling.

    As one famous TV ad noted: “Where’s the beef?”
    Redo a few big pharma ads in your next blog; don’t drop it here. If they are “out there” then you might just land a gig! :)

    - Judy

    • Jonathan Richman July 11, 2009 at 12:38 am #

      I’m not a big fan of back and forth commenting via a blog, so I’ll try to keep this short. The current state of the pharma industry is only very partially a result of the down economy. As you know, annual growth rates, gross and net margins, market share versus generics, and ultimately, earning per share have been in decline for the past 5-7 years. The average 15-20% growth rates that were typical for big pharma not that long ago have completely dried up and, in fact, this decline has been steady for some time and long before the current economic conditions.

      While I always appreciate a little push (check out all the comments on this blog), asking for concrete examples here seems…pardon me…absurd. You’ll recognize that most of my posts are pretty explicit about what the industry should do about a particular problem. When I explain that product reviews might be a good idea, I explain how from an operations standpoint it might be possible. When I turn to issues around mobile phone compatibility and optimization, I take the time to say precisely how to fix what’s wrong. See for yourself. Your challenge that I should have put together a few ideas for an engaging and creative banner for a pharma brand tells me why there might be an issue within the pharma industry and perhaps advertising in general. The Pringles ad is wonderfully creative (don’t just take my word for it, search Google for some more opinions), but it’s also built around the brand’s character, developed precisely with the target audience in mind, and (imagine this) conceived around some specific marketing objectives.

      All too often we set out and create concepts without this understanding and that’s why so much advertising falls flat. Which brand would you propose that I simply whip up a creative banner ad for this time? The next time your agency is struggling with a brief and has no idea how to bring it to life, I’ll take a look for you and post something here, but to create something like the Pringles ad for a brand about which I don’t know the specific details makes little sense. Proposing technical solutions or discussing how pharma companies might handle gaming as a marketing channel is one thing. It speaks to the industry as a whole and requires no specific insight into a particular brand. That’s what this blog is about. You won’t find anywhere on this blog me questioning a creative concept because I think that I know better. I may say that I don’t understand it, but perhaps it’s not for me to understand. As long as the target audience does, then it’s perfect. Without knowing these details, I’m just throwing rotten tomatoes and that gets no one anywhere.

      Therefore, if a big pharma company would like to share with me the same creative brief they gave to their current agency that resulted in any existing banner ad, I’ll be happy to take a look and post some alternatives right here on this blog.