Allie Tozzi
Allie Tozzi

Let’s talk about the ever-elusive challenge we healthcare marketers face: effectively cutting through digital clutter to capture the attention of target audiences in engaging ways. At imre, we strongly believe that in order to strategically differentiate brands in crowded markets and influence consumer decision-making, we must first take a moment to listen.

Déjà vu when consuming content in the digital space is a given. For example, an ambiguously aged woman looks distressed. Perhaps she’s trying to go for a walk, play with her children or is struggling to complete a simple task. Then suddenly, she’s transformed from sad and defeated to happy, getting back to “doing what she loves.” We’ve all seen this. It’s vague enough to not promise too much, and if you were to watch these TV spots on mute, you might not even know which condition this treatment or product is associated with.

This sea of sameness is the reason some pharma brands are throwing the traditional marketing rule book out the window. While the risks they’re taking aren’t drastic, at least there’s a possibility of standing out when so much is lost in the noise of the digital space.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '21 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

Pharma, but make it POP ... culture

Pharma advertising doesn’t have to be just one thing (usually being an ambiguous TV spot, copied and pasted for every channel). One way brands are taking this on is by leaning into pop culture and bringing personality to their product.

Imvexxy is empowering its patients to feel grand, not unlike a duchess or queen who would be invited to a summer ball in Bridgerton, fusing beauty and relevant cultural tie-ins to highlight its estrogen treatment for menopause. This campaign is pushing women experiencing menopause to continue to wear their crown, rather than take a backseat during this period of transition.

Talking to patients, rather than at them

Vyleesi, an imre client, took current “dating slang” to educate women about HSDD and loss of sexual desire through their «Ghosted by Desire» campaign. To better connect with audiences, we drew inspiration from direct-to-consumer brands by tapping into a shared cultural experience and emotion. Not only did this campaign embrace the symmetry between a term and experience so many women resonated with, it made the condition intuitive, memorable and a part of the cultural moment.

To further amplify and build a dialogue around the campaign, we leveraged influencers across social channels and blogs as a means to encourage women that it’s okay to speak confidently and openly about their sexual health. Instead of just saying “you may have low sexual desire, here’s a possible solution,” this campaign translated the condition through a metaphor that made it easier for women to equate their symptoms with how they talk about other complicated situations in their life.

Not taking risks is the riskiest thing you can do

Traditional pharma campaigns might have people who they consider “influencers” give a less than commanding performance that comes across as scripted, rather than genuine to the brand or the spokesperson. It basically shouts “this is another paid transaction.”

But one way some brands are changing that narrative is by enlisting influencers that have a recognizable and distinct personality, even if it may come at a risk.

Birth control brand Annovera enlisted comedian Whitney Cummings to bring awareness to “Vagina Appreciation Day” in April. Whitney famously doesn’t mince words and this partnership was definitely a gamble that paid off.

One of Nurtec’s newest campaigns features Whoopi Goldberg; while the TV spot falls a bit flat, her personal Instagram post didn’t. Instead of posting a cut down version of the TVC—been there, done that—Whoopi shared a “blooper reel” of her cursing, and messing up the “ODT” language. The post copy connects back to the brand, but this video really conveys her tone of voice.

Move fast or get left behind

What all of these brands have in common is that they’re willing to move fast and try something new. If they fail, they fail fast and keep going. The pharma arena might not necessarily be the industry that comes to mind as a cultural epicenter or a place where brands flood their channels with a constant string of comedians and TikTok trends. However, by embracing culturally relevant topics and conversations, and talking to patients as people, brands have the opportunity to create deeper, more genuine connections with their intended audiences. Meeting people where they are and talking to them in a way that they can understand.

How does one accomplish this? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and, depending on your brand and current goals, approaches may change over time.

Holding a portion of your budget and resources for ad hoc opportunities can allow you the time and space required to act quickly when an unplanned opportunity to test something new presents itself.

If you’re the first to do it, be comfortable without a precedent to follow. The wonderful thing about being the first to try something is there’s no right or wrong way. It’s an opportunity to forge more effective, creative marketing solutions and become something more than that often sought after case study.

Just because there’s a new trend, platform or ad unit, that doesn’t mean it fits with your overall objectives or audience. Listening is key here. What do your audiences and communities care about? What are they thinking, feeling and doing while engaging with your brand? This is a fundamental barometer in assessing whether or not your test has a strong foundation.

Moving fast and breaking down previously-held beliefs about what can and cannot be done in the pharma space can be a daunting task. Realistically, it won’t happen quickly—or without some strong persuasion—but brands and marketers alike should partner together in an effort to push the goalposts of what can be done. If pharma is going to continue to strive to make genuine connections with consumers in the digital space, they must be willing and brave enough to try.


Allie Tozzi is Senior Program Manager at imre Health.