Pharma and the Art of Recall-Ability
25 April 2018 • tvsquared
Meg Coyle,
Content Director

Pharma TV ads have always fascinated me. Beyond the fact that the U.S. is one of only two countries that actually allow pharma ads on TV, there are so many complexities to getting a drug ad on air. Tim Nudd, a former editor at Adweek, put it best:

“It’s hard to do good pharmaceutical advertising. You have to talk about illness or debilitation, and mention a sometimes comically lengthy list of side effects. The FDA is looking over your shoulder. It’s not the sexiest category. But of course, those challenges can also be what makes it fun.

Adding yet another layer of complexity is the fact that most of these ads promote products that viewers can’t simply purchase at the swipe of a smartphone. For prescription drugs, TV ads must establish recall-ability with viewers – whether they’re the patients themselves, their loved ones/caregivers or doctors.

The science behind recall-ability can fill up a lengthy book, but there is one component that plays a major role in achieving it; one that’s often overlooked: creative testing.

The Missing Link: Creative Testing 

It goes without saying that a creative can make or break a TV campaign. Advertisers spend millions to create visually memorable, emotion-driven, even humorous ads that will resonate with viewers. For pharma, creatives are the key for getting viewers to remember drug brands weeks or months down the line. But there’s a “fire-and-forget” mentality when it comes to TV creatives, and it’s detrimental to campaign effectiveness.

Continuous creative testing within the digital realm is common, but it’s rarely been done with TV. Advertisers often rely on “gut feel” or feedback from focus groups/online panels. The flaw with the former goes without saying, the flaw with the latter is that it measures intent vs. real-world response.

While brands are increasingly measuring and optimizing TV media (day, time, channel, etc.), many are not measuring and optimizing TV messaging (creatives). Given the resources that go into the creative process, this is shocking!

When we mention multiple creatives, we’re not talking about totally different ads, which could result in messaging confusion. Rather, it’s about making small or subtle changes to campaign spots – even in post-production. The changes could be as simple as color, music, voice overs or inserts; or they could be a bit more complex, like different actors, script changes, etc.

Just like a brand would do champion-challenger marketing for digital, it needs to do exactly the same thing for TV in order to:

  • Ensure optimal creative performance (rank ads simultaneously by network, genre, day, etc.) and isolate the elements that work best.
  • Identify creative wear/decay and then incorporate more challengers into the mix.
  • Make in-flight changes to on-air creatives to improve performance
  • Look at the uniqueness of creatives to activate different audiences. In the case of pharma, one creative may target patients, and subtle changes to that ad could have it speak more effectively caregivers or relatives.

To strengthen recall-ability and maximize overall TV performance, pharma needs to start treating their creatives as dynamic optimization opportunities.

Before you go: Check out “Prescription for Success: TV, Search & Pharma” to learn more about how to optimize TV campaigns. In terms of recall-ability, the more actions you create with consumers, the more likely they’ll remember your brand when it matters most. Taking advantage of the TV/search synergy to strengthen memorability just makes sense.”