A New Reality in DTC Advertising?

The last few months, I’ve been deeply entrenched in “Execution” for an important client. So needless to say, I’ve been thinking A LOT about what it takes to move from strong strategy to superb execution, and more specifically, what it takes to achieve what I call “High Return Execution” (HRE).    Look for more thoughts on HRE in the upcoming weeks… (And my sincere apologies for the resulting lack of blogging and staying connected with many of my friends’ blogs these last few months)

Today, I want to share a personal experience.  Last week my team led an advertising shoot for a prescription product’s new multi-channel campaign we are intimately involved with.  There was much to feel good about – the creative idea tested very well and is strong. We also had a terrific creative and production team, a wonderful photographer who we’ve all worked with before, and we were shooting in a venue that turned out to be magical…not to mention the beautiful picture- perfect, dry sunny days … [How can you  complain about spending two days on an unspoiled 200 acre ranch in northern California?]

But as I flew home from the shoot, reflecting upon the previous few days, I kept feeling there was something even more special … something that I rarely feel after shoots … and then I realized … Our work included real patients and in some cases their families as well.   We shot three different print executions using three different patients.  In one case, the mom brought her daughter who was not only proud of her Mom, but also proud to be photographed.

You might ask, what’s the big deal?  As everyone knows, so often in branded consumer and healthcare advertising — TV, print, web etc., ads are created using models or professional talent.  Certainly, using real patients or ‘real people’ adds a great deal  of complexity and tension, as these shoots require much prep and planning, and have a sizeable cost … Using real patients means you’re never quite sure until ‘it’s a wrap’ — that you have captured the idea you are trying to communicate … It also takes more time and requires special artists and production types to work with real patients…

We decided to use real patients because the idea behind our ‘first person’ campaign  ‘demanded’ authenticity.   Lest you dismiss this as just a current buzzword, keep listening. These are real patients who are living their lives to the fullest extent they can, and genuinely grateful for their prescription product’s ‘contribution’ to their improved health and QOL. Additionally, these patients were willing to step up and be photographed about a medical condition that is embarrassing to most and difficult to manage.  These patients weren’t participating in these ads because they were going to get rich (hardly), they were participating in my client’s campaign because they are thrilled to be living their lives in a fuller way -they had reached a milestone so to speak, and wanted to give back. They each stepped up in the hopes of leading others like themselves to try to get the right help for themselves (It may be this prescription product, or it may be another)… to help spread the word, and bring hope and attention to a medical condition that gets little attention otherwise…

Each patient joined in the production process…they were not just models that showed up for their ‘job'; they were on mission, … tasked to rise to the challenge of being center stage and photographed…something that none of them had ever done in their lives…and in itself a huge personal risk.  There were times that you could feel the wheels in their heads spinning, “this sounded like a good idea when I was in the comfort and safety of my home, but now that I’m here, this is more than a little overwhelming and scary …”

As a result, everyone on site joined in to support these patients to be able to do their personal best … It was also a continual reminder to each of us why we were at the shoot … certainly to capture DTC advertising and patient communications for our client, but it was more than that … we were there to shoot a new campaign that would  help the many patients with this condition that are still not feeling their best … to help spur and initiate awareness, education and dialogue so that these patients can participate in their own health decisions and have more enlightened discussions with their doctors … The vulnerability was gripping.  I’m confident that we at the shoot will not be the only ones to respond.

It leaves me wondering what the increasing use of using real patients will mean for “direct to consumer/patient” advertising and relationship marketing in the future?  Are we witnessing the birth of a new standard that will demand real patients who are advocates for themselves and others? … Who make a difference each day by being true participants in their health? Will consumers be touched by their ‘less than perfect’ delivery as actors and models?

I suspect this trend is here to stay. The pressure is on to “come clean” when the ad suggests that it’s a real patient and it isn’t (See the Abilify example).  There’s no faking ‘real patients’ who are actively participating in their health; time will tell what impact they will have on our industry going forward–and how they potentially transcend  advertising and marketing…

My heartfelt thanks to the three patients who made a choice to join us this past week.  I learned with each conversation, and I hope they learned a little too.  I also made three new friends… :-)

See other examples of current DTC Print Ads Using Real Patients, click on image below.






8 thoughts on “A New Reality in DTC Advertising?

  1. With trust in pharma at an all time low does anyone really believe that it makes one beans worth of difference whether they use real people or actors ? DTC ads today do not drive conversion they drive people to look for information online and awareness so it doesn’t make one bit of difference. In addition if they used real people consumers would think that they are in pharma’s back pocket

    • Rich,
      Thanks for your thoughts though I don’t fully agree! I do think using real patients can make a ‘few beans worth of difference’…

      Time after time, patients report that they prefer learning from others like themselves–real patients and their stories continue to be of primary interest across all categories…

      Virtually every marketing and RM presentation outlines the treatment pathway from awareness to consideration to trial to loyalty to advocates…what better example of true patient advocates than real patients willing to step up to the vulnerability of being in a brand ad and helping others? (I’d hardly call this being in pharma’s back pocket…the money they make is meaningless…the prestige little.) What greater opportunity for a brand to enable patients to participate?

      While pharma may not always be the most loved industry, to a patient or caregiver, gratitude is what comes to mind when a brand or health technology brings better health and joy to everyday living.

      And to a pharma company, using real patients can incite greater brand stewardship and support… it makes everyone feel good…what’s wrong with that?

      While the web is a growing channel, print and TV still play a role in helping consumers to learn about new treatments and technologies that they can either go discuss with their doctors or do additional information gathering on the web.

  2. The answer to your posed question depends on the advertising concept. The greater issue I see is the increasing use in brochures, magazines and website of “filler lifestyle photos”. These photos add no value to communicating the message. They are not related to the copy, or even the product.

    The photos are simply generic “happy, healthy looking people” that are placed in the comp to make the page look good and remain in the final layout because giving meaning to the illustrations would take time and money.

    Give me real people with real stories any-day for this use instead of cookie-cutter marketing.

    • Mark,
      I so agree–too many generic happy, smiley pharma photos which offer little added value or potential for patient connection. At least real people can inspire real stories which can increase learning and engagement…it’s a start…

      Thanks for taking the time to visit.

  3. I agree, Ellen, “real” people and “real” experiences are not limited to social media, but are permeating traditional media as well. Today, people want to connect!

    • Angela
      Thank you for stopping by! I agree, all touch-points and communications should try to connect and engage as much as possible with patients on all levels!

  4. Great post and comments. I would add that the argument for authenticity also goes for reaching out to physicians and other providers. From our work, we know that nurses like to hear from (and be represented by) other nurses. Same goes for doctors.

    We know that actors will do a “better” job on camera, but partnering with a real medical professional can make everything, from performance and phrasing to costume and on-screen action, more authentic for a knowledgeable audience.

    • Gary, Thank you for your comments. I agree there is increased opportunity for added authenticity by reaching out to other medical professionals, including nurses and doctors…though with increased PhRMA and DDMAC guidelines, this can be increasingly challenging but still worth the effort for the right situation and communications effort.
      …You are right, each of us like to hear from and trust others like ourselves…

Comments are closed.