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From Pharma with Love

Updated: Dec 16, 2019


Words by Louise Rogers

Pill pack, pill pack in the store, which is the most desirable of them all? Much like Snow White’s Evil Queen and her desire to be the fairest in the land, it is the dream of every pharmaceutical marketing team to create an unforgettable and adored brand.


However, the Queen failed, and the task facing pharma marketers is even more substantial. As Atilla Cansun, Chief Marketing Officer, Merck Consumer Health, points out, companies are faced with a sea of similar products in which most brands feel, look, and talk the same. Speaking at Cannes Lions 2018, Cansun raises a valid point – in a world crowded with generic medicines, how does a brand distinguish itself and what differentiates the memorable from the unmemorable?


A product may look fantastic, but if I am not engaging in a conversation that interests me, the product and I will not bond

Fortunately, pharma can look away from the mirror and turn its gaze outwards for the answer. There have been countless successful marketing campaigns, such as Coca-Cola, who made a splash in the summer of 2012 with the launch of ‘Share a Coke’. By personalising Coke bottles with over 1,000 names, the company was able to emotionally connect with anyone owning or knowing someone with one of the names. They turned a brand promotion into an experience of self-expression and staying connected with friends and family. The campaign increased sales by more than 2% in the USA alone and went on to snap up seven awards at Cannes Lions 2012.



This idea of tapping into emotion and identity to earn brand love returned to Cannes this year, where it was highlighted in several of the sessions.


How do pharma reach millions with one campaign or brand in the same way Coca-Cola did? “And how can we make healthcare irresistible to the masses?”, asks Cansun. He explains how in the context of brand building, irresistible means three things: “Firstly, it’s shared aspirations”, he begins. This means tying your brand into a person’s passions and desires, so you share common goals and a purpose. “This is important in going beyond transactional and enlightening someone to become part of a movement. The second element is communication with emotions. A product may look fantastic, but if I am not engaging in a conversation that interests me, the product and I will not bond. Lastly, it’s love at first sight.” This is the element that makes those first few seconds between product and consumer really count.


Mark Gass, Executive Director, The Creative Engagement Group, raises the importance of creating memorable work to both build a successful brand campaign and to emotionally connect with customers. “It’s a simple formula”, he says. “Experiences drive memories, memories drive actions, and actions drive results. Effective communication is essentially memory making.” Reflecting on the memories we make, a moment usually stays with us because something good, unusual, or even bad happened. “The truth is, most of the experiences we have are just OK, and that’s why we forget them”, Gass says.


“In terms of creativity, we use episodic memory to connect with people on an emotional level”, he explains. Episodic memory is recall of past personal experiences, times, places, and associated emotions. This form of memory comes into play in emotional advertising because it can align with our aspirations, values, and self-perception. “Think about when you see an advert or movie that speaks to you – what do you do? You create a movie in your mind and project yourself into that situation. It becomes part of your own identity.”

One of Merck’s Lovebrands, a nerve care medication called Neurobion, took the direction of targeting the ‘heroes of everyday life’: people who are champions of their day – they care for loved ones, suffer in silence, and rarely complain – a situation that many people would project themselves into.


Experiences drive memories, memories drive actions, and actions drive results

Cansun plays an example from the ad campaign launched by Merck in India. The ad shows Gazi Jalaluddin, a self-made taxi driver who did not get an opportunity to go to school. Thinking that no one should have a life like he did, he began to save from the day he started earning and has now as a result opened two schools in India. “Here, if we want to communicate in an emotional way that talks to consumers, the insight we gathered was it is the hard-working, less privileged of the country that are often forgotten and not celebrated. We reconfigured the brand to make the underdog the true hero celebrated across the nation.”


The launch of Merck’s Lovebrands 5 years ago, to revamp the Consumer Health section, has seen successful growth and turned the brand “from being a stagnant one to a growth machine, that has grown 7% over the past 4 years, double the growth of the marketplace”, Cansun explains.


He offers a call to action in the form of a challenge – “Can our brands offer more than just popping pills? Can we offer a creative meaning to our product or brand and be more inspiring that the visuals we see so often?”


Reflecting back on the formula: experiences drive memories, memories drive actions, and actions drive results. Pharma marketing teams need to create an experience for their customer that resonates and speaks to them, forming a lasting impression that ultimately earns love for the brand.