Pharma marketing is rarely considered fun or creative. “Oh, I just saw the best ad…” were rarely the words spoken about a pharma campaign. Whether it’s due to a sensitive, uncomfortable subject or unremarkable, indistinguishable ad imagery, some pharma ads could be informative at best, “slo-mo walking on the beach” at worst.

Pharma marketing used to lag behind when it came to keeping up with the (digital) trends.

Sure, there’s the usual list of excuses: sensitive subjects, regulations, side-effect reporting guidelines, risk disclosures and other strict codes of practice. However, times, they are a-changin’. They’ve been changing for a while now. Traditional marketing practices are in decline and pharma marketers are embracing the change in consumer expectations.

The ever-rising consumer empowerment, demand for a personalized approach and expectation of engagement necessitated dropping single-channel marketing. It also meant, as Pharmaphorum put it, breaking the golden trust triangle of doctors, blockbusters, and salesforces.

Nowadays, pharma marketers know how to let go of the status quo and engage in out-of-the-box pharma marketing practices, while still getting their point across and not sacrificing the creative.

And they do it to encourage open conversations around health issues and get rid of the stigma surrounding some medicines and illnesses. That approach is what gets the audience’s attention and earns their approval and trust.

Pharma marketing has started moving in the right direction of entertaining and engaging content, and here are a few examples of exactly that.

Highlighted pharma campaigns

Let’s start with campaigns meant for an audience difficult to involve in health conversations – men. These two campaigns said to hell with the tip-toeing around sensitive men health topics and normalized it. They lifted the ban on conversations around erectile dysfunction, hair loss, performance anxiety, and men skincare. They made the content on this matter more approachable, fun and encouraging.

The result?

#1 Hims: Baldness and ED? Optional.

Hims took a no-nonsense approach in its effort to engage men in conversation around baldness and ED. They position these medical conditions as, not something to be swept under the rug, but rather as something to talk about freely. And they do it by using casual, friendly language. Very un-pharma like, yes?

Hims promo video

#2 Roman: Thinly Veiled Metaphors

Very much like Hims, Roman addresses ED in a relaxed manner. Not something to be ashamed of, but rather a problem you take care of like any other – deal with it and move on. Whilst mocking the traditional approach to these types of ads, Roman is not only advertising their product, but also the services that come with it. The product itself is not the sole focus of the commercial, but rather the whole experience. 

Roman Commercial: Thinly Veiled Metaphors

Bringing art & design to pharma marketing

Who said pharma marketing has to mean the same old, dull imagery? These campaigns transformed the way we view the pharma industry using the immense power of art and design.

#3 Dabur Gastrina print campaign

Breaking away from the constraints of interchangeable pharmaceutical photography and imagery, the Dabur Gastrina tablets print campaign embraces the beauty of the minimalistic, but effective graphic design. These two-colored print visuals say it all – without really saying anything at all.

Dabur Gastrina print ad
Dabur Gastrina print ad, source: Campaigns of the World

#4 Meiji & Dentsu: You and Immune System

Dentsu, an advertising agency, created a truly beautiful outdoor campaign for Meiji. The goal was to spread awareness around our immune system, of which we don’t know much and rarely give much thought to. The illustrator created detailed black and white art pieces of the immune system which hung in public spaces like murals.

Meiji immune system murals
Meiji immune system campaign, source: Branding in Asia

#5 Insmed: A Thousand Words About NTM

One picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s exactly what this campaign by Area 23 for Insmed set out to do. The campaign was actually targeting healthcare professionals, as NTM (nontuberculous mycobacteria) is something difficult to diagnose and often easily overlooked. Insmed paired NTM patients with artists from around the world who created visual representations of their experience with NTM. They wanted to bring awareness to the struggles of people living with NTM.

Example of the NTM visuals
“It felt like my cough was holding me prisoner” visual, source: NTM Facts

#6 GSK’s Breath of Life

This app that won a Cannes Lion award was created as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) awareness initiative for GSK. Breath of Life was inspired by the traditional Chinese art form of blow painting. As such, it was a result of a collaboration between a leading pulmonologist and a well-known artist. By exhaling a deep breath, the app uses the COPD metrics to create a tree using the process of blow painting. It visualizes a person’s breath in the form of a tree with flowers. The smaller the tree, the direr the situation.

In this digital age, people even feel less dependent on doctors for advice due to the wealth of information available online, on apps and chatbots. In fact, one survey has shown that more than 85% of patients were confident in their ability to take responsibility for their health. So, in addition to the Breath of Life app, let’s take a look at how Amag Pharmaceuticals tackled the often uncomfortable subject of women’s sexual health using a chatbot.

#7 Amag Pharmaceuticals sexual health chatbot 

This initiative was meant to ease the conversation around women’s sexual health and help women learn about Intrarosa – their product for treating pain during intercourse. They wanted to create a safe space for women where they can get helpful information while remaining anonymous. It works as a “choose your own path” system, as women can pick from three different characters they identify with to start learning about their condition.

Last, but not least – the following campaigns really broke the status quo of pharma marketing. They took what pharma marketing was, tossed it out, and came up with these reinventing campaigns. From charity deciding to stop acting like a charity to a morbid, reality-check opioid addiction awareness campaign, these are our last three out-of-the-box pharma campaigns.

#8 SickKids Hospital: Sick Kids VS campaign

Sick isn’t weak. Sick fights back. That’s the message this hospital wanted to convey. Moving away from its traditional marketing approach which often used emotional messaging to appeal to donors, they went a more empowering, uplifting route. The campaign, titled VS, stands for versus and alludes to the hospital and its patients ferociously fighting against various diseases (cancer, CS, autism…) – all the while never giving up.

SickKids VS video campaign

#9 Allergan’s Vraylar commercials: bringing bipolar disorder to life

With this campaign, Allergan used metaphors patients use to describe living with bipolar disorder to create the ads. The videos depicted a woman going up and down in an elevator – each stop representing a different emotion. They used this specific scenario because that’s exactly how patients described the feeling. An elevator going up and down, feeling unsteady and not knowing what comes next. Aside from this visual, they’ve also used videos showing patients standing on top of a wobbling house of cards and uncontrollably shopping.

Vraylar Elevator Commercial

#10 National Safety Council: Prescribed to Death

The goal of this campaign was to start the conversation around the opioid crisis and fight the notion that it only happens to addicts in dark alleys. It’s something that can happen to anyone – your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers. To drive this message home, they’ve visualized the total number of opioid deaths in a year by engraving the faces of the people who passed away on the tablets and then displayed them on a wall. It made for pretty powerful imagery. “I’m overwhelmed every time I see the wall because I was very close to being on the wall myself. … I thought it was the most selfish thing anybody could do. Until it happened to me.” Those were the words of one of the people in the video they made.

Prescribed to Death video campaign

Oh, I just saw the best pharma ads

There you have it. Ten proofs that pharma marketing can be fun and powerful, while still remaining informative. It only takes realizing pharma is no longer constricted by the traditional. Don’t be afraid to get creative with the imagery, don’t be afraid to be bold, and don’t be afraid to try out new things.

In order to be successful, pharma marketers need to look beyond the product and recognize the importance of building long-term relationships with customers through an omnichannel presence. In order to gain a competitive advantage, pharma marketers are now embracing the digital transformation and building a marketing strategy across multiple platforms – from social media to apps and VR. If anything, these ten campaigns are an example of exactly that. 

Using mediums like video, apps, and chatbots – these marketers have proven that pharma campaigns don’t have to be contained by two traditional platforms, like TV and print. In fact, the audience itself has gravitated to online ad consumption. And where the audience is, you have to be, too.

That said, the audience is always key to success. If you know your audience, where it is, who it is, and what it wants – it’ll be easier to create an effective marketing strategy. That’s why, when building your marketing strategy, be sure to make use of readily available marketing tools and platforms. 

One of the best ways to get insight into your brand perception and audience is through media monitoring. It’s a way to always keep up with the way people and media outlets talk about you online, analyze brand sentiment and recognize opportunities for inserting yourself into online conversations. Once you know your audience and what they respond to best – you’ll know how to approach them and with what kind of content.


Discover new pharma marketing opportunities.

To find out more about media monitoring for pharma marketers, but also the best pharma marketing strategies and practices, check out our ebook Pharma Marketing: A Guide.


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