Making a land grab

Here’s a scary thought.

Coke isn’t actually the real thing.

It’s not even happiness.

And how about this:

People are loving lots of things, only one of them is MacDonalds.

You can travel yourself interesting with Thomson holidays or even Thomas Cook.

And you could probably find a supermarket where you’re thinking every little helps and find yourself in Sainsbury’s when you’re thinking it.

The thing about generic claims is, it works if you’re the market leader. If you’re not, then at least be the first to say it. Make a land grab.

I have spent many years listening to creative directors and clients say we want to own this or own that. Some things you can own, some things well….good luck.

We want to own the colour blue.


We want to own the weekend.

We want to own breakfast.

We want to own the 11 o’clock snack break.

It’s the kind of bullshit we in advertising love to spout, it sounds big and ambitious and it gets consumer clients brains tingling with thoughts of world domination. Own the emotional space and you own the category.

But in pharma, unsurprisingly, we are so used to actually having something to say to differentiate the drug, no matter how detailed, we have lost the art of the generic land grab.

Or perhaps we never developed it. We see it as flimsy and unsubstantial.

Just because we can’t exclusively own something like fast efficacy, does that mean your campaign can’t say it and thereby own fast efficacy and the emotional real-estate?

And I don’t mean just saying it, because saying it can only get you so far. I mean making it your own through creativity. (what else?)

I have worked on many accounts where we decided we couldn’t really make a legitimately own-able space ours because someone had beaten us to it.

What could be more French than Citroen?

Well, Renault apparently.

Look at the Simponi work that won Gold at Cannes this year from McCann Sydney. That is a campaign that now owns the idea of once a month dosage that you hardly notice. Any other drug coming on to the market with the same efficacy trying to occupy that territory is going to be hard pushed to compete, not just in core claims but in the HCP’s head, which is the most important media of all.

If you do it well and be the first you can pretty much ‘own’ any generic claim.

Which is why I have decided to ‘own’ the lightweight short pharma-creative blog.


(BTW you can follow my tweets at @Ollyc47)

The nursing home that got creative

In 1991 in the town of New Berlin in upstate New York, Bill Thomas, then a young doctor of just 31, who had previously really only spent time in A&E, took over as medical director of Chase memorial nursing home.

When he arrived he was dismayed with the reality of life there, despair oozed from every plastic plant in its plastic pot. Residents were sleepwalking through their bewildered lives, the home was devoid of energy and vibrancy. A kind of grey suburban train station before the end of the line.

Bill knew something needed to be done.

At first, being a physician, his idea was to look at the medication. Examinations followed, tests were carried out, meds were changed.

But change for the residents, who mostly suffered from various forms of dementia, was minimal and the cost of the drugs went through the roof.

How could he breath life back in to the place?

The answer was to get creative.

The problem with a care home like Chase was that it wasn’t awful, the nursing staff were kind, the place was clean etc but as Bill said “culture has tremendous inertia” and inertia ruled the corridors. No one had changed the way a nursing home had been run in, well, ever.

Like any creative he looked hard at his target market.

Bill got to know the residents, they had all been shopkeepers, housewives, factory workers, exactly the kind of people he had known while growing up, surely there was a better life for them than this soulless existence?

So his creative idea was to literally fill the place with life. His aim was to attack what he called the three plagues of nursing homes: boredom, loneliness and helplessness.

They would start with replacing the fake plants with real ones, ones that needed caring for.

Nursing home regulations allowed for one dog or cat. Thomas applied to the state for two dogs and four cats.

But he didn’t stop there, what was the quintessential sound track that signified life?

No, not the droning of daytime TV from a distant day room.


They bought 100 birds.

And what is a home without children and a garden?

Staff were given a creche and encouraged to bring their own children in, the garden was transformed in to an allotment.

In the movie version of this story I am sure the nursing staff and state officials will be portrayed as nay-saying disbelievers who fought him at every level. But the truth was, although skepticism was rife, and red tape challenged everything, everyone knew something had to be done and the excitement of trying something different captured their imagination.

Now, they also didn’t change it incrementally. They went large from day one. This was the whole ad break at news at ten. This was the two minute extended ad in the Superbowl.

In what Thomas describes as the BIG BANG they brought all the animals in on one day.

Pandemonium ensued but for the residents this was the best entertainment they’d had in years. (With a hundred birds came a hundred bird cages, all flat packed.)

There were of course issues with learning how to feed the animals, cleaning up after the dogs was ‘not on a nurses job spec’.

But soon they all realized that successful living went hand in hand with having a purpose. The residents and staff became joint housemates in the new home, sharing the responsibility for the pets and plants.

Instantly the place came alive and along with it, so did the residents.

One elderly male resident who had confined himself to bed, despite drugs and antidepressants, and effectively given up on life began to walk the dogs. Soon he began eating again, dressing himself again..three months later he moved back in to his own home.

In a test carried out by a team of researchers (every good campaign needs researchers) compared to a ‘control’ home the total drug costs fell to 38% of the comparison facility.

Deaths fell by 15%.

The study couldn’t say why.

That’s the thing about creativity, sometimes the why and the how can’t be assessed scientifically but the results are clear to see.

Pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box, these are all cliches we regularly spout but rarely actually do. But when we do, like the Chase memorial nursing home we can literally breath new life in to a brand.