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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

AR/VR Special Feature 2018: The agency perspective

Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Med Ad News spoke with Gene Fitzpatrick, senior VP of engagement strategy for Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, about the future of augmented and virtual reality in healthcare marketing.

Med Ad News: What do you think are the most interesting and innovative AR/VR uses and use cases that have already appeared out in the wild of pharma and healthcare marketing? In the broader consumer space?

Gene Fitzpatrick: The categorization of “innovation” has always been funny to me, specifically when talking about trends. I say this because by the time a type of AR/VR use becomes a “trend,” I feel as though it’s not exactly “innovative” anymore. However, where the wild world of pharma is most effective and on the cutting edge within the VR and AR arena – that would be the experiential demonstrations that simulate what it’s really like to have a specific ailment or condition. Recent VR applications for those who suffer from migraines come to mind as a stellar example, but there are also many others. For a company or brand to be able to simulate to a physician or consumer the experience of a condition is an invaluable advantage. Our job as marketers is to make this happen. Once we can enlighten stakeholders to really understand a condition or disease, they will then realize why treatment is so important. Augmented reality has greater opportunity to accomplish this simulation because it gives us the ability to expand upon an ordinary life experience by adding the barriers of a condition or disease, especially through wearable technology, and cognitive intelligence. In essence, all of our lives are becoming “augmented” with technology – the way we drive is supplemented by automatic navigational support, and the lights in our home may react to the music we are listening to or the movie we are watching. Expanding AR into our pharma marketing efforts is crucial and the need is immediate. We need to augment educational and marketing efforts for pharma in order to be truly effective.

Med Ad News: What new AR and VR applications can we expect to see in health care marketing over the next year or two? How about five years down the line?

Gene Fitzpatrick: AR and VR marketing efforts will naturally follow the experiences of the devices and technology we currently use. For example, looking through our phone’s camera lens with added filters or features automatically popping up may become commonplace for us all very soon. In the dermatologic space, pharma can easily use improved camera lenses to identify skin conditions (and it is already starting to). Dermatologists can then deliver educational information based on that identification of the condition and even include a call to action. Five years down the line, these advancements will be even further than we can imagine. Apple and Google are moments away from perfecting wearable smart glasses and even contact lenses that have the potential to serve up great user experiences with information delivered based on visual cues. I think within five years we will definitely be using this technology in the healthcare space.

Med Ad News: Why are AR and VR particularly well-suited for the pharma and health care context?

Gene Fitzpatrick: Any AR or VR application that involves simulating a condition, disease or experience is a natural fit. As healthcare marketers we are often charged with raising awareness about a certain therapeutic category or disease state. Successfully doing this opens stakeholders’ minds further (both HCPs and patients) to the importance of treatment. The more we can help HCPs and others understand this crucial fact, the better.

Med Ad News: What do you think are the keys to effective use of AR and VR, both from a strategic and tactical point of view? What assets, both human and technological, will agencies and brand managers need in order to really create great AR and VR experiences?

Gene Fitzpatrick: It all starts with making sure the channel is the right fit for the strategy. Just using a tactic like AR/VR because it’s neat or new will not work for a brand. If the brand’s objectives lend themselves to an experiential encounter, then AR/VR can help. From there, a strong creative team is crucial to help craft the story behind the experience. Developers, videographers and animators are also essential. If a shadow, the development, or even the lighting is slightly askew, the viewer will have a flawed experience even with the most subtle of imperfections. Every single detail is fundamental for a beneficial experience.

Med Ad News: Pharma marketers are not noted for their eagerness to take advantage of new technologies. How might agencies and brand managers encourage the higher-ups to make the leap in this case?

Gene Fitzpatrick: Those who enter the space early have the most to gain. If marketers plan to truly take advantage of the newest technologies they need to commit to and have a complete, solid strategic plan. That plan should also include extensive awareness and PR campaigns and other marketing initiatives that highlight the pharma company’s and/or brand’s commitment to new technology. Emerging technology already has huge equity in the healthcare marketplace. The media loves the topic of technology, and pharma needs to leverage this opportunity. When Amazon released the Echo Dot, Starbucks had an Alexa skill developed for customers early on, at the time of the launch, which allowed for users to place their regular Starbucks order. It allowed Starbucks to be one of the first companies to utilize this experience, and they were often associated with the positive buzz surrounding Amazon’s Echo Dot. Their first version of the skill was a simple experience, but they continued to adapt the commands to understand broader speaking patterns and had continued success because they committed to updating the skills. Pharma has the ability to do the same for HCPs and patients with the newest of technologies, and there is a distinct benefit to being early in the game.

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