Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pharmaceutical marketing communications

People I meet are often intrigued when I say I work in the world of pharmaceutical marketing. After all the pharmaceutical industry is extremely regulated. In most parts of the world, marketing communications are restricted to the healthcare professional community. Yet, looking at adverts aired in North America, one can easily see what pharmaceutical brands are all about. A well-known example is certainly that of Viagra and Cialis.

When Viagra was launched back in 1998, it was the first oral treatment made available to treat erectile dysfunction. What was most commonly known, until then, as impotence, was not at the time perceived as a treatable condition. So Pfizer developed awareness campaigns, using celebrity endorsement, for example with football legend Pele or former senator Bob Dole.

As we have seen, initial awareness campaigns focused on relieving the embarrassment of the condition and encouraged men to go and discuss their problem with a physician. Coupled with extensive PR coverage, the drug quickly attained blockbuster sales. Advertising campaigns shifted their focus to depict happy and victorious men, themes that would long stay the core of the brand’s identity.

But in 2003, Pfizer was faced with a serious contender, as Eli Lilly launched Cialis. Conducting pre-launch market research, Lilly’smarketing teams found that a number of women felt pressured by growing expectations from their husbands taking Viagra. Taking advantage of tadalafil specific pharmacodynamics, they started promoting the drug as one that would enable couples to have (once more) a satisfying sex life.

The difference in focus and tone between the two brands remained for years, whether characters would sing, as in this Viagra ad from 2006:

...or Cialis (2010)

…Or talk about (how much they enjoy what they can do with) their treatment:
Viagra 2005:

Cialis 2007: 

Now dubbed the Weekender, Cialis became market leader in several European markets such as France by 2007. While its marketing kept on focusing on the spontaneity couples could enjoy using the drug, Pfizer’s communications slowly adapted to give a more prominent role to the Viagra safety profile. First, by reminding the audience which is ‘the most prescribed E.D. treatment in the U.S.’ (2011):

...and later that ‘you only take it when you need it’ :

More importantly, this advert from 2014 made the headlines around the world as it was the first time a Viagra ad gave a prominent role to a woman, thus suggesting a strategic shift in the brand’s communications, now following the footsteps of its rival in understanding that it is not only men whose lives change with E.D. treatments.

Direct-to-consumer advertising from these two brands illustrates a key function of pharmaceutical marketing which is to differentiate treatments in a crowded marketplace. As in other industries, a deep understanding of experiences and expectations gives marketers an edge to build compelling stories. And not unlike other industries, the innovative nature of the pharmaceutical industry means our understanding also needs to evolve and strategies need to be adapted over time. Helping our clients to do just that is what we, at Branding Science, are all passionate about.

The author: Axel Rousseau is Vice-President of Branding Science in Asia-Pacific. He has worked on global market research projects for pharmaceutical brands in over 11 countries.

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