This is part three in the series, so you should probably read part one and two if you haven’t yet.
We’ve now established what the concept of Marketing with Meaning is and how it might relate to pharma. I gave the example of Baxter’s marketing for Aralast as a perfect demonstration of how it can work. I’ve also offered you a few other examples from healthcare and other industries, which can be found on the Marketing with Meaning blog and in the free download of chapter two of the book.
Some people have told me that sometimes I oversimplify concepts like these. That is, they interpret my posts sounding as if I’m saying, “But, this is so simple…why in the world are you standing around doing nothing?!?” But having worked in pharma for many years, I realize, it’s never that simple. But I like challenges like that form my readers, so to show you that this is an important concept for pharma and one that they can and should embrace right now, I’m going to give you a three of examples of what Marketing with Meaning could look like for a few big pharma brands. I’ve somewhat randomly picked these brands, but if any of you skeptics think I “cherry-picked” these, just leave me a comment and let me know for which brand you want me give an example. (PS: I’ll take up that challenge for any brand in any industry, by the way)
Two disclaimers before I get into these. First, you’ll probably look at a few of these ideas and think that no one would want to engage with a pharma company in the ways I’m suggesting. You might be right. At least, you might be right today and I probably agree with you. But, if people won’t participate in my program because they don’t trust me, is the solution to never do a program ever again? No, the answer is to do the program and show that you are trustworthy. It won’t happen instantly, but if you do it consistently over time, then it will happen. These first programs might not have huge participation, but they’ll show the world that pharma can do it differently and in a way that they can trust and find very valuable. Second, I don’t have in depth knowledge of the marketing plans for these products. So, these ideas might be off equity and probably not in line with the brands’ marketing objectives. Not much I can do about that. The concept is what’s important, not the specific tactics. In addition, these ideas will certainly be controversial and difficult to get approved, but that’s sort of the point. We’re just going for a demonstration of the concept, not a comprehensive marketing plan. So, here goes:
I mentioned in part one of this series the controversy stirred up by anti-pharma people people regarding Natalie Morton’s unfortunate death. The anti-pharma people tried to blame it on the vaccination for HPV she had gotten hours before. It turns out that a massive undiagnosed tumor is what killed her. A sad story to be sure and one for which pharma companies got unfairly clobbered. I mentioned that a lack of trust of big pharma (no surprise to most of you) is one of the things that makes situations like this impossible for pharma to defend. It’s hard to listen to anyone telling you that all is well when you don’t trust them. That was the point of this Marketing with Meaning series. I think it’s the best way for pharma to get back that trust. As I said before, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen if we’re consistent.
These vaccines are to prevent the spread of HPV, which causes most forms of cervical cancer. HPV, of course, is usually spread by sexual contact. As you probably know, we’re a little uptight about sex here in the United States. Discussing the need for the vaccine also requires discussing sexual activity. To some degree, this is related to the debate about whether you give teens free condoms. Does it encourage or condone them having sex or is it simply an acceptance of the reality that they will have sex, so you might as well help keep them from catching and spreading sexually-transmitted diseases? I’m not here to answer that debate.
Discussing sex with your kid is pretty tough for most people. It’s uncomfortable (for everyone). Parents might not be sure how far to go and what level of detail to provide. And they likely aren’t aware how much their kid already knows. When your kid senses this, it makes the conversation even worse, so many parents struggle with this parenting challenge. In many ways, this discussion is like talking to your kids about drinking, smoking, or drugs. These can be uncomfortable as well for parents. But, parents have gotten better at these over the years thanks to some really good campaigns from government agencies, non-profits, and even manufacturers. The free download of chapter two of the book from Marketing with Meaning has a great case study about the Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) on page 42. They’re the people who brought you the “This is your brain on drugs” ads. But, they’ve left these behind to focus instead on educating parents about how to talk to their kids about drugs. Check out what they’re providing for parents on their site.
While weighing the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine is an important part of the decision process being able to have a frank and open discussion about sex with your kid is a key part as well. A parent might think they can put off the decision to have their child vaccinated for a few more years because they aren’t sexually active when, in fact, they are. So, here comes the Marketing with Meaning part: why not help facilitate this discussion? Do exactly what PDFA did to help parents talk to their kids about drugs, but make it about sex instead. Help parents with the difficult questions, with the details, and with knowing when you should have the talk. No one’s providing this really well on a national level and it’s a great chance for a pharma company to demonstrate some Marketing with Meaning. This isn’t selling vaccines or promoting a brand. That comes over time when parents trust you more. This is providing something meaningful to parents who are your most important customer for these vaccines. You’ll be able to talk about your product later when they’re actually listening.
For those who don’t know, Enbrel is a treatment for moderate or severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It’s also one of the top ten selling drugs in the world. But what would happen if the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis started to decrease? What if someone was helping people slow the progression of or delay the onset of arthritis? Check out this campaign for Tylenol. You’ve probably all seen these billboards by now. What are they doing?
These billboards appear to be showing you a way to avoid taking Tylenol. If there are fewer people with headaches, then doesn’t their demand (and then sales) go down? Of course, what Tylenol knows is that providing this advice helps people create a better connection with the brand. People view these and believe that Tylenol isn’t simply out to make a buck, they care about your health. When you’re about to pick up a pain medication in the store next time, who do you turn to? The company that you know cares about your health or some private label store brand? Of course, this doesn’t create an emotional connection with everyone, but over time it has an impact. These ads are Marketing with Meaning. Yes, they’re billboards that are somewhat inherently interuptive, but you choose whether or not to read the words. When you do, you realize that they give a tiny, but valuable piece of information that can help in the future.
So what does this all have to do with Enbrel? Let’s take the same approach as Tylenol and help prevent those with the earliest stages of RA from progressing into the more serious, latter stages. It’s just like a headache medicine helping you prevent headaches. How can Enbrel do this? Exercise is an important part of preventing the progression of arthritis. Of course, some of the most debilitating effects of RA happen on the hands. They become painful and lose flexibility over time. You can slow this with proper exercise, but how do you exercise your fingers? Well, WebMD has an entire section dedicated to this. Any other ways, just in case you find those boring? Hint: if you’re writing a comment about how there’s no way to do this, you’re doing it. Typing and moving a mouse can be a good way to get some exercise in both the hands and fingers. Not too much to the point that your hands get sore or lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or anything, but enough to get people moving their fingers around everyday. But how do you get people to type? With a game.
The onset of RA typically occurs in middle age and women are disproportionately affected. This group is also big players of “casual games.” Seriously. Here are some stats from two sources ( Pew and ESA):
- Average game player age: 35
- 26% are 50+
- 36% of gamers 65+ say they play EVERYDAY or almost everyday (the highest of any age group)
- 50% of gamers are women
These are simple, often Flash-based games that can played quickly and might have an interesting rewards system. It’s games like Bejewelled.
You could create a game that requires you to use increasing amounts of finger dexterity (up to the level you can comfortably do) in order to get through puzzles or move onto the next level. Perhaps part of the play requires you to use one hand and quickly press a few different keys in order that are spread in different keyboard positions. The faster you do it, the more impact it has on the game. It doesn’t have to be complex (but it does have to inherently be a fun game and not just an exercise tool). You would make the game open to the public and it would just carry a small Enbrel logo in the corner. If you make the game good enough, you’ll help people prevent the progression of their RA, something they’ll be incredibly grateful for…something that will dramatically build their trust in you. And, if it’s good enough, the game will get played and spread around by people that don’t have RA, but it will also increase their trust in you as well. More trust with more people is just what pharma needs.
Lipitor/Crestor/or any other statin
I already gave you the Aralast example of providing free test kits for their drug. They have to because the disease is so rare that your average health insurance plan would see it as a waste because it would cost a fortune to find a handful of people with the disease. It would be a tremendous burden on the health system with little wide-scale benefits. So, Baxter takes that on as part of their marketing budget.
If we were in the UK right now, I could simply walk into the pharmacy and pick up a statin off the shelf. Statins are an over-the-counter (OTC) product there. There’s been debate about making certain statins OTC in the US and this debate will likely continue for some time. The arguments for allowing this is that more people will get treated. Presumably, this is because there’s far fewer barriers to getting an OTC product than a prescription one. There’s no trip to the doctor, no passing a slip of paper, and waiting for you pharmacist to fill the prescription…you just walk in and take what you need. The arguments against focus on concern about people managing their own heart disease; something, they say, should be monitored by a physician. I’m not here to declare who’s right and who’s wrong.
So, if the argument for allowing this focuses on giving more people access to these drugs by making it simpler to get treatment, can’t the prescription drug companies do this too? It’s a hassle to go to your doctor and get a blood test, wait for the results, maybe go back for a follow-up to discuss treatment, get a prescription…and on and on…you get the idea. Many people get their cholesterol counts during annual check ups, but not everyone gets one. So, why not eliminate some of the barriers? Take out the first few steps of the process by supplying at-home, cholesterol testing kits to those who ask for it. You already can get them without a prescription for about $15, so this isn’t completely crazy of an idea. Before you panic, let me tell you how it would work. Test kits can be made available through different media promotions, in-pharmacy displays, etc. The person gets the kit, takes the sample and mails it back. They can choose to have the results sent to themselves or to their doctor. You also allow them to request additional information about your company or your products, but you don’t keep their information. That is, you can’t keep the test results to use later on. Sorry, too much room for abuse there.
Here’s the simple math, which I admittedly haven’t done with absolute precision: is the cost of the tests (and processing) less than the incremental sales your product would get from people who would never have found out they had high cholesterol? If the answer is “yes,” then this is a simple decision. Let’s see…a test costs $12 to manufacture and process (I’m thinking bulk discount). Let’s assume that only one in four who take the test would actually be a candidate for statin treatment (based on this). That means you have to spend $48 ($12 x 4) to find one highly qualified and motivated patient (I classify them as such because they’ve had to do a lot to get to this point unlike, say, someone who just visited your website). Perhaps only one of the four actually goes to the doctor and gets a statin. That means, you have to spend $192 ($48 x 4) to get one motivated person a statin prescription. At around $130 per month, each person needs to take their treatment for an average of 6 weeks for you to break even. Of course, you won’t get every prescription, so apply your brand’s market share here as well. This doesn’t factor in the PR benefits and free media placement you should expect as well. Not sure if the math works (I think it’s actually conservative)? You could do this as a small, localized pilot to see what the rates of response are before going national.
Like Aralast, pharma gets to play the hero because they are reducing the costs within the healthcare system by absorbing some of the testing costs themselves. They are getting treatment to people who would go onto have severe heart disease without ever knowing it. But, you say, will people trust pharma to do this? As I said before, maybe they won’t at first, but enough people will. With those people as your proof, you show the world that you are doing this with good intentions and that there isn’t anything underhanded going on. It would be a slow process, but it would work over time.
There you have it. Three examples of Marketing with Meaning for three big pharma brands. These might not be ideal programs for these products, but consider them illustrative. Imagine what the people on these brand teams can come up with as they apply their intimate knowledge of the brand. I guarantee they’d be even better. These examples weren’t meant to say that these brands should do these programs, but more to demonstrate how it’s possible even for pharma to do meaningful marketing. Some already are, but if we can do it consistently throughout the industry, we can change public perception and get back to a place where people are glad pharma companies are around to provide them with life-saving or life-enhancing medications and not as something they need to protest against.