Unlike consumer goods branding, healthcare branding is not a celebration of self. People don’t engage with healthcare brands to shape their identity. “Look, I got a new Dior bag…a new BMW…a cool brand of beer!” Healthcare branding is a protection of self, helping to restore aspects of one’s identity lost to illness.
Such compromising illnesses and their remedies are poorly served by TV ads due to the very nature of the medium, which compels medicines to behave like soft drinks or smartphones, compromising the healthcare brand’s identity. TV ads for pharma brands should die a quick, painless death for several reasons.
First, TV is foremost an entertainment medium. Viewers are naturally tuned in to laugh or cry over a host of subjects featured in sitcoms, sporting events, movies or dramas. When people watch TV, they don’t wish to be educated much less reminded of all the ills facing them in the world. Even TV news is geared toward the flamboyant presentation of information, with slick, handsome anchors vying to keep you glued to the screen.
The fact of the matter is that sickness isn’t entertaining, and that the remedies for illness are even less alluring. However, bowing to the need for upbeat performances on TV, pharma ads try hard to put on a show with disastrous results. We are expected to believe that those who suffer illnesses are being held back not from the reality of jobs and family obligations, but rather from landscape painting on the beach, flying kites or playing a round of golf while discussing deep vein thrombosis.
But the primary means of “medi-tainment” usually features a whimsical character designed to grab our attention and present the illness in a branded, less disgusting way in the hopes that viewers can relate and not rush out of the room for a quick bio break. We have the green Mr. Mucus courtesy of Mucinex; or the newt-like Digger the Dermatophyte harassing toenail fungus creature on behalf of Lamisil, to name just two.
Mucinex and Lamisil are very good drugs. We should admire and respect these brands because of all the good they do in ridding us of their respective illness targets. However, the TV medium compels them to dress up like fools, and ends up trivializing the drugs’ serious, heroic brand identities and strains credibility.
Second, half a minute or even a minute is not enough time to present any kind of meaningful story about a pharma brand on TV. We are left with ridiculous pleas to ask your doctor if a cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4)-blocking antibody is right for your urothelial carcinoma. Huh?
Lastly, drug brand identities must appeal to the doctor as well because the regulated transaction model in healthcare cannot promote a drug purchase by the end user, but rather should promote a dialogue between doctor and patient. TV ads that whisper in patients’ ears behind a doctor’s back only antagonize the relationship.
Instead of having a serious dialogue about diagnosis and treatment, healthcare professionals are forced to spend an unwanted amount of time un-doing the damage caused by TV ads that fail to paint an accurate picture of the drug’s complex risks and benefits.
The pharma industry does more good for human kind than any other for-profit business. However, such laughable and unhelpful TV ads only contribute further to the pejorative perceptions the public holds about unreasonably hawking products that people don’t want, but rather need, and in an exorbitantly expensive medium to boot.
RIP, TV drug ads. May you rest in print or on line where the media are more suited to your brands’ very respectable identities.