top of page

Writing Raconteurs into Pharma’s Story

Words by Kirstie Turner

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool that can engage an emotional response from the audience, and consequently inhibit decision making. Pharmaceutical marketers must find a balance between creativity and factual information to create successful and authentic marketing campaigns.

Humanity, when traced back over thousands of years, is a kaleidoscope of cultures and civilisations. Within the differing ways of life, one thing remains constant: our innate desire for storytelling. From cave paintings and mythologies, to tabloid journalism and Hollywood film studios, the need for narrative is part of our DNA. And this is not going anywhere; recent research found that doctors respond more positively to emotional, rather than factual, advertising. But while marketing should utilise storytelling, it is critical that it does not mislead consumers. The pharmaceutical industry must recognise the importance of authentic marketing: storytelling powered by facts.

Storytelling, whatever the format, takes the audience on a journey and evokes an emotional response. Good marketing should tap into this emotion to invest the audience in the message. “We underestimate the power of emotional factors in decision making since it is, at times, irrational, and this is where the power of storytelling comes in. When you tell a story to your target audience, you can connect with them at an emotional level, at the level where they make their decisions,” explains Andrew Cioffi, Global Marketing Director, AstraZeneca.

Campaigns must work to first pique the viewer’s emotional interest, but then it is critical that the company delivers on the promises made to cement those feelings. Cioffi continues: “Human beings are ultimately wired in this way and when they engage with the brand, it will strengthen the feelings and loyalty if it delivers to the promise, resulting in the creation of loyal customers over time that will tell their own story to others as they become your brand ambassadors.” This is where the power of storytelling can have a snowball effect; the impact of reaching one customer can soon multiply.

There may be an understandable reluctance to embrace creative storytelling in pharma marketing. Claudia Adreani, Business Head of Customer Excellence, Boehringer Ingelheim says: “It is a heavily regulated industry and we sometimes can’t be as creative.” There are undeniable dangers of misleading marketing campaigns, with severe legal and reputational ramifications if regulations are not adhered to. Cioffi continues: “Pharmaceutical marketing has been quite conservative over the years, partly due to strict regulatory and legal constraints.”

Aside from the obvious need to stick stringently to regulations, transparency and authenticity within pharma marketing are requirements for the increasingly savvy audience they are targeting. “In today’s times, you cannot afford not to be authentic. We live in an interconnected world; if a customer thinks we are lying about our brand, all it takes is one negative post to go viral and that can have a hugely negative impact on the brand and can destroy years of hard work,” explains Cioffi.

Companies seem to be realising that the benefits of storytelling campaigns outweigh the work required to ensure these are authentic. By seeing regulatory authorities as partners, pharma marketers can work with them to create informative, accurate campaigns that appeal on an emotional level. Adreani says: “I have seen some campaigns that are quite inspiring and give us a bit of hope that we can work with our regulatory partners and our compliance partners within the business to do campaigns that are more emotional and talk more to the heart of the patient.”

Adreani goes on to explain some of the most notable works in this area, such as those from media agencies: “Some of my favourite examples are some of the campaigns coming out of agencies, like Havas Lynx and the psoriasis campaign that they did for Novartis – I found that one quite inspiring and different.” Havas Lynx’s campaign for Novartis, ‘Ask for Clear’, comes with the storytelling tagline ‘Re-inspiring disappointed patients to seek a better solution’.

The goal is to empower patients through the medium of humour across a range of channels, such as radio and social media. Each ad tells the story of a different patient, such as ‘Beach Dancer’. “Hey, I can’t believe my eyes, I saw my first ever TV advert for psoriasis! It was a tubby guy, in swimming briefs, dancing on a beach to music. It was funny. Finally, psoriasis is coming out of the closet!” shares a Psoriasis Forum patient.

When you tell a story to your target audience, you can connect with them at an emotional level

The campaign has had significant reach to both patients and HCPs, with 46% of all people living with psoriasis in the UK agreeing that the campaign had an impact on their care and 44% of dermatologists stating that patients had come in because of the campaign. The ads are simple and Adreani reminds us that: “Good marketing is about simplicity and clarity of messages and consistency across time.”

Marketers must be the storytellers of pharma, taking black and white information and bringing it to life, splashing it with a rainbow of colours. But first, the industry must overcome a reluctance to embrace this creative medium and work with regulatory partners to strike the balance of emotion and authenticity. “We always have to be factual – we are selling medicines, after all. However, the emotion comes in the way we deliver our marketing campaigns,” says Cioffi. “Ultimately, there is never a perfect mix – this is an art, as much as it is a science, and you have to learn to implement, learn, and adjust.”

Read next

Subscribe to GOLD


Sign up to receive a weekly roundup of our latest articles, interviews and more 

bottom of page