Offending doesn’t mean it won’t work.

This has stood out from my first day in pharmaland as a big difference between health and consumer.

The worry that the marketing of a new drug might imply the HCP has been doing it wrong up to now and the (ad) concept might offend their sense of professional pride.

And why do we worry about that? because the HCPs are keen to assure us that this is how they will feel if we dare be impudent.

And so we dutifully avoid any notion of professional ineptitude, (even though they were doing their best with the available tools) no matter how motivating our message might actually be.

But since when were doctors or nurses experts in communication?

We already know that just because car drivers say ‘spare us all that creative stuff just show us the car and the price’ we should probably avoid their marketing advice and be as creative as we can – because it works.

Why else would you buy a Peugeot?

But with Doctors? No, we tip-toe around their sensibilities because that’s their professional advice.

Professional marketing advice, mind you.

Where do we draw the line between research findings and a respondent’s marketing expertise?

So what they are saying is this:

“Dear Mr Hamilton we have a new car for you this Formula 1 season, it’s faster, better acceleration and can take a corner like nothing before”

“You saying I’m a crap driver?”

The entire reason for being, as the French say, of advertising is to get the consumer to buy the product. Full stop.

Imagine a headline that read: “I never use drug X” Trainee oncologist aged 42

Offensive in every way, and yet…hmmm…not a bad idea when you think about it.

So do you worry about offending 42 year old trainee oncologists or making actual oncologists feel smug and self satisfied at using the product?

In consumerland it really doesn’t occur to to anyone that people might be offended, professionally or personally at the idea of them currently using substandard products.

Even in business to business ‘We can get building products to you faster than before’ is not a slight on a foreman’s ability to get drainage supplies on time.

People don’t get offended personally because they tend to think the idiots or underachievers the ads are referring to are in the next office, not theirs. They may feel inadequate momentarily but that is rectified swiftly by that new product.

Job done.

So who are these delicate flowers whose sensibilities are so fragile that we dare not imply our product might supercede their current one?

What happens to these disaffected professionals that could be so damaging to your brand?

Do they sulk and keep their customers knowingly ill, out of ill feeling?

Do they organise a boycott of this upstart product which has implied their qualities as a professional are questionable?

Do they ignore all evidence of efficacy out of bloody mindedness?

Will they banish any Rep from the premises?

Probably not.

I think a more likely reaction would be to give this new product a try.

So is it always wrong to be offensive?

The ad for Pancreatic cancer that featured the headline  ‘I wish I had breast cancer’ outraged everyone, seemingly.


People were fanning themselves like someone had just said ‘arse’ at an Edwardian summer tea party for ladies of delicate disposition.

To a small amount of people it may even have been offensive.

(Certainly the nation’s art directors and typographers were appalled, but that’s a different issue).

But thanks now to earlier diagnosis, as a result of the awareness created, the NHS could save £3.1 million.

That’s a ROI of 4000:1

Maybe that kind of offensiveness isn’t so bad.

And maybe HCPs aren’t as delicate as we fear, despite what they tell us in research, because people generally aren’t delicate.

Disinterested, busy, distracted, yes. Delicate, not so much.

So, the question is what happens if we do imply the doc’s current treatment knowledge is a bit lagging behind the rest of the industry?

Sometimes putting everything in a positive light just makes everything appear lit the same way. I’m sure that we will continue to take our customers marketing advice and be wary of their wrath.

And that’s probably why the beaches and the parks of pharma-adland will remain overcrowded with happy looking couples all looking the same, saying the same things and living the same mindless, fulfilling lives.

And I’m sorry but..that is offensive.



(agree? disagree? leave a comment – and while we’re about it you can follow me @ollyc47 on twitter if you’ve a mind to)

One thought on “Offending doesn’t mean it won’t work.

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  1. Yet another point, well made, Mr Caporn. I have always believed we do not challenge HCPs enough. I liked the line from an old Publitek ad for Zantac (1993?), which said “Consider an ulcer extinct at your patient’s peril” aimed at encouraging Zantac maintenance treatment. I don’t think this world famous brand suffered from this tone – far from it, in fact.

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