Ad Header



The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Where Has All the Social Gone?

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


By Bruce Rooke
Head of Ideation



There is no place more social than Cannes. (Just spend an evening at The Gutter Bar.) And, yet, when it comes to creative ideas using social media, social didn’t really show up on the pharma shortlist this year.

For a little context, 2 out of 3 winners at the 2015 consumer Lions festival leaned heavily on social media. Across the aisle, in the health and wellness category, there were social media-driven winners from Close-Up and Pepto, as well as social ideas featuring online bullying, dirty nappies, and talking testicles. (Yes, I just said that.)

Even previous Lions Health festivals awarded social media winners on the pharma side, including, well, a “fish slap.” (–decision/42388)

So why has pharma become so anti-social?

(Don’t get me wrong, there are always hashtags and other social “legs” added to traditional campaigns and websites. And there are plenty of ideas that social media amplifies. I’m talking about social-first ideas here.)

I’ll throw out a few easy why-nots:
1. Regulatory. Yes, that ever-present reality of branded pharma still hangs around like an uninvited guest when you’re trying to create conversation and community, the hallmarks of social. Where does it fit? Can it fit?
2. Adverse effect reporting. We all know about having to turn off certain social media functionality to avoid issues. That creates a one-way conversation (not exactly social) and turns social media into yet another passive channel with low participation.
3. Pangs of conscience. There are social media outlets that just plain don’t allow branded pharma to play because we’re, of course, evil.
4. The role of social. It never was meant to be commercial. It’s social. It is only the necessary reality of an ad revenue-supported business model that makes us think otherwise.

All of these have done the equivalent of a couple of benzodiazepines chased with a bottle of Cannes rosé: They’ve slowed our roll into energetically seeking creative ways that branded pharma can be truly socialized.

Things that should be automatic fields for creative exploration, like native advertising and sponsored posts, require more thought now – and more chances for “I don’t think we can do that” to enter into the conversation.

I was not around then, but I am sure the same doubt demons were hovering when the bell-bottomed visionaries were first contemplating direct-to-consumer television ads or mobile branded websites.

So, in the spirit of Lions Health, and with the very real need for pharma to be more active in social (where the largest population of our patients, caregivers, and HCPs live and get information), here are some thoughts:
1. Perfect the unbranded-to-branded journey. There are many existing examples out there of brilliant solutions on the web: The DX and Her2 Story. How can we translate that legal, unbranded-branded relationship to social?
2. Don’t be a social butterfly. Don’t try to be in all possible channels at once. Focus on the one social channel where your audience is most active, work with them and plot out the regulatory map, and then apply all your strategic and creative chops to create award-winning brand experiences.
3. Don’t try to be a consumer brand. We’re pharma. We have serious, meaningful, life-changing products to educate about and, yes, sell. We are aiding the highest rational-emotional decisions there are. Let your actions, and your content, reflect that. And let that inspire you to persevere to the next great Lions Health Grand Prix social media idea.

Ad Right Top


Extensive pharmaceutical business and marketing intelligence. For back issues, please contact

June 2019 Focus: Payer access, biotech/biopharma, DTC, rare diseases, and more!


Ad Right Bottom