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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Delivering Clients the Lion’s Share of What They Deserve: 3 Reasons Winning a Cannes Lion Should Be Clients’ New Success Metric

Written by: | | Dated: Wednesday, August 17th, 2016


By Susan Perlbachs
Executive Director
GSW, an inVentiv Health company



Baked into any given day in healthcare marketing are challenges:

• Budgets are tight; we are consistently forced to do more with less
• We endure ongoing criticism – from politicians, the American Medical Association (AMA), even pharmacist groups – regarding the role advertising plays in drug costs
• We face strong disapproval, such as the recent statistic that 57 percent of Americans support removing prescription ads from TV, according to STAT-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll

It’s tough times on Medicine Avenue. But, by aiming to achieve one simple, straightforward metric, I’d argue we could turn every one of those challenges around. That metric is winning a Cannes Lion.

Here are three reasons why using Cannes Lion wins as a success metric will raise clients’ bottom lines – and our industry’s reputation.

1. Creativity is good business.

In various ways, it’s been proven that creative advertising – advertising that steers away from rational communication – performs better. In fact, companies making efforts to champion creativity in communications consistently outperform the stock market and excel overall.

In “The Case for Creativity,” James Hurman illustrates, how time after time, Cannes Advertisers of the Year surpass it versus the S&P 500. One of the most striking stories is of P&G’s marketing transformation. Under Jim Stengel’s leadership, P&G moved from a conservative, rational marketer to a creativity champion, taking home the coveted Cannes Advertiser of the Year in 2008. In December of the prior year, P&G hit their all-time high share price of $74.67 – up from $62 per share just months earlier. Most strikingly, all this occurred at a time when most companies were fretting about sinking consumer spending, housing market uncertainty, and rising interest rates.

So contrary to what some may espouse, it’s not just your Apples, Airbnbs, or Ubers of the world that profit from creativity. It’s everyone. Even pharma.

These stories of savvy, creative marketers outperforming the S&P 500 abound. Yet, US healthcare communications agencies seem largely unable to sell clients on creativity. Of the 103 shortlisted entries in pharma, only 16 came from US agencies. And that’s down from 19 shortlisted entries in 2015.

The commonly cited reason is US regulatory hurdles. But, with black-box communications separated from the branded and unbranded categories, it hardly seems 100 percent credible. What’s more likely is that we need to convince our clients that a cash cow may begin with a gold Lion.

2. Safe is expensive – and what turns people off about pharmaceutical ads.

Much of what the pharmaceutical industry puts out from a communications standpoint is vanilla. Fair balance, regulatory fears, and lawyers have created a culture where unremarkable, inoffensive, non-talk-worthy communications reign.

Safe allows you to fly below the radar. Safe allows you to keep your job. But here’s the rub: Safe is expensive. Safe burns through a lot of money without moving the needle as much as it could. In an industry increasingly criticized for the cost of pharmaceuticals and the role of advertising and marketing in that cost, this monetary waste is not sustainable.

The price tag for an agency to produce a pharmaceutical print ad can run from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands. That doesn’t even account for the hours spent on the pharmaceutical client’s side: marketers’ hours, medical director time, regulatory and legal reviews to approve copy and visuals. Add in media and you could be talking millions of dollars to become white noise. That’s an expensive pill to swallow.

From the top down, we need to support a culture of communicating in a manner audiences want to engage with. To survive as an industry – and keep direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads from getting banned – we must provide value beyond facts that can be found in a product insert or patient summary. We must create communications that help change lives.

3. Cannes Lions Health is dedicated to “life-changing creativity”. And isn’t that why we’re in business?

As an industry, we must embrace a mind shift, thinking of ourselves not as healthcare advertisers, but as healthcare advocates. We must be champions for the cause of public health overall.

Using advertising as an initiative for public good isn’t an off-the-wall notion. It’s been shown that advertising can absolutely have a positive impact on patient health outcomes.

As discussed at the DTC National Conference this year, direct-to-consumer advertising lifts all prescriptions in a given category, not just the advertised brand. In fact, an eight-year regression analysis of the statin market revealed that DTC advertising lifted branded prescriptions, while also lifting generic scripts over the same period. Furthermore, a lack of DTC ads showed a decrease in branded and generic prescriptions. Comparing the investment in advertising dollars spent versus the money saved in Medicare costs, it was a $135 million spend resulting in a $400 million savings. But in order to make an impact, we must utilize creativity to deliver messages our audience wants to listen to and wants to engage with. Only then will they become brand advocates themselves.

I happened to be sitting with my client in their company cafeteria when I first saw one of the Coke cans with “Share a smile with Brian” on it. I snapped a picture and texted it to my friend Brian. Pretty amazing. In that moment, I not only engaged with Coke’s campaign, I delivered it, complete with logo, in 100 percent compliance with some global brand book somewhere. My client looked at me and asked, “Why can’t we create something like that?”

I agree. Why can’t we? Healthcare must create advertising that educates, motivates and inspires people to take action that ultimately improves public health and patient care.

As an industry, let’s be the change we wish to see. Let’s stop playing into the mindset that gives pharmaceutical advertising a bad name. Let’s start being part of the creative-driven, patient-centric, bottom-line-building industry this world is poised to not just tolerate, but embrace.

Who’s in?

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