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 regulated pharma brands should die a quick, painless death.
First, TV is foremost an entertainment medium, and sickness isn’t entertaining, although pharma ads try hard to make them so with disastrous results. No matter how much one jokes about Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or creates a whimsical character that is supposed to humanize toe fungus, or features happy smiling people discussing deep vein thrombosis over lunch, the medium ends up trivializing the drug’s serious, heroic brand identity 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 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 medium is more suited to your brands’ very respectable identities.