Henry Ford once commented that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have told him to make me a faster horse. We adopt a more subdued tone but are also firm believers in the premium offered by original thinking. Of course, when you stumble on that dream idea, it’s vital to remember that the clever bit is optimising it to its fullest potential.
And so we have been monitoring an idea pioneered by the marketing department at Burger King in Spain. They pinpointed the persistent popularity amongst footballers celebrating goals by pulling their jerseys over their heads. The practice was 'invented' in the 1990's by silver-haired Italian striker Fabrizio Ravenelli. And so when Burger King agreed a one-year sponsorship with a side in Spain's top league, they cleverly negotiated printing a second logo inside the team's shirts. A two-for-one, if we're to borrow a phrase from community pharmacy.
I once chased a well-meaning cardiologist for a clinical article for a year and a half. During this time he got a new job, moved house and opened a private practice…but never did get round to writing up my 900 words. Whatever your experiences with scribe medics, just beware that ‘ghostwriting’ is coming under increasing scrutiny.
A fascinating new book reveals how the impressively moustachioed pharma pioneer Sir Henry Wellcome helped create the role of the modern medical sales representative. His company, who subsequently morphed into what is now GSK, was the first to visit doctors in hospitals and favoured ‘gentlemanly’ individuals who wore frock coats, silk hats and had sample bags of real crocodile skin.
Times have certainly changed, with stilettos and Mont Blanc document cases now more the fashion, but many of Wellcome’s innovations – samples, engaging advertisements in medical journals and promotional stands at medical meetings – remain part of marketing activity more than a hundred years on. And company representatives still strive to project a “scientific” image just as Wellcome vowed they should.
If you’ve been to the cinema of late you may have spotted trailers for a new release called Extraordinary Measures. It stars Harrison Ford as a doctor and researcher risking all to try and help the parents of a child with an extremely rare illness and looks like a must-see for anyone involved in the marketing of medicines.
It’s been a very long time – 18 years in fact – since we’ve had a movie that didn’t portray drug developers as the devil incarnate. So here’s your starter for ten: what has Extraordinary Measure got in common with the magical Lorenzo’s Oil that it doesn’t share the host of ‘evil pharma’ films released since 1992 – Deep Blue Sea, The Fugitive, Mission Impossible II and The Constant Gardener to name but a few?
Hunky Dory’s approach to selling crisps has come under intense scrutiny of late. Everyone now knows that the company deployed a series of gratuitous billboards involving scantily clad female sportswomen to grab consumer attention. These also announced Hunky Dory’s was the ‘Proud Sponsors of Irish Rugby ’. Quicker than you could say forward pass, the Irish Rugby Football Union called in their lawyers and the media lined out to pass on hundreds of thousands of euro worth of free publicity. My colleagues and I recognise ‘ambush marketing’ when we see it. But we also wondered how the folks at Tayto, the Irish crisp market leader, were reacting. That’s because they launched their own expensive and rather conservative sports-based marketing campaign earlier that same week. We did a bit of potato business digging and made a discovery that left our jaws on the floor...
We’ve discussed previously what to do when a newspaper article criticises your company or product. Its best practice for reporters to offer anyone facing significant criticism the right of reply at the time the story is written. However, this tenet of journalistic fairness isn’t always followed. Air New Zealand experienced this sort of one-sided coverage recently when The Listener newspaper claimed the carrier was about to become a budget airline on international short-haul flights. Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe went appropriately bananas. But he still had the presence of mind to come up with a response that was so stunningly clever, it ensured most of New Zealand forgot about the original negative publicity.
We’ve written previously about the complications involved in rowing back on doctor largess. On the one hand, public and politicians are increasingly suspicious and agitated about money spent on medical customers. Even companies themselves have begun to acknowledge the potential conflict of interest, or at least the perception of it. But what of the customer? It seemed to us that some influential doctors are as keen as ever when it comes to honorariums, educational grants and seats towards the front of the plane. And such dissonance can lead to temptation and very tricky situations. Now, a new study (and a LA Times piece engagingly headlined ‘To heck with the bad publicity! Doctors still dig those drug company freebies’) has confirmed our suspicions in this regard.
It’s hard to get away from financial matters these days and a return to this subject by Take Two merely reflects some of the wider issues plaguing our society. Last week generic drug manufacturers made their €30 million deal with the Department of Health. Counterparts in the branded Rx side remain engaged in difficult financial negotiations on a wide range of fronts. Whatever the outcome of such negotiations, let’s hope that any agreements prevent us from following the example of our neighbours in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy where hospitals are defaulting on their medicine bills.
Ever wondered about the absolute contradiction of seeing healthcare staff taking a cigarette break outside hospitals when colleagues inside are attempting to save the lives of people have put themselves at mortal risk from the very same activity? Well, one healthcare provider – the Cleveland Clinic – has been taking a stand on this issue. It stopped hiring smokers five years ago and now it’s upping the ante further by insisting that staff stay healthy and fit.
The third episode in Amnesty International’s campaign for equal access to healthcare in Ireland represents one of the most disjointed approaches to lobbying and key message delivery yet undertaken. ‘Healthcare Guaranteed: Scourge!’ arrived in your scribe’s inbox from a friend tagged ‘The weirdest health campaign ever’ and that description is probably being kind.