For the people, by the company

For the people, by the company

Pharmaceutical companies undertake campaigns to spread awareness about various diseases. Coincidentally, they also have a product in these therapeutic segments. Is this innovative and genuine public service advertising or a backdoor means of promoting their prescription products? Nandini Patwardhan investigates

2006061513-8569916“For more information on the disease, contact ABC Company.” Sounds familiar? Have you heard, seen or read similar information lately? If yes, you have just seen a public service ad.

2006061516-8563353 Anand Narayan Vice President, Sales and Marketing


Simply put, a public service ad makes use of traditional advertising for issues related to public health, safety and so on. “Public service advertising in the pharmaceutical industry is aimed at increasing awareness among our fellow citizens about the need to partner doctors in managing various diseases, as well as to dispel myths about various treatment modalities,” explains Anand Narayan, Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, USV.

“If done with sensitivity (emphasising the positive aspects of proper management rather than the negative aspects of non-management), it can serve both the physician and the patient in managing ailments,” he adds. A well-made advertisement proves beneficial to the pharma company as it translates into less patient attrition and greater patient compliance, which in turn results in better sales. A single public service ad can create great impact in terms of increasing brand recall, sales, number of prescriptions and so on.

2006061515-9502715 Asha Kapoor Executive Director

Sudler & Hennessey

India is fraught with healthcare concerns. “Our primary healthcare infrastructure is not very strong and if advertising can help save lives, it should,” insists Asha Kapoor, Executive Director, Sudler & Hennessey. “The polio and the ORS campaigns protect our children by educating mothers. The HIV or AIDS awareness campaigns tackle various issues thereby attempting to save us all,” she explains.

Pharma connection

The Indian consumer has seen quite a few interesting campaigns in the mass media. For instance, some years back pharma major Cipla made a splash with its asthma campaign. This television campaign that reached out to millions of patients focussed on creating awareness about asthma. One campaign in the news recently is the chicken pox campaign by GSK. The advertisement featured a school going kid and his family (which is going through his report card). They ask about a Rahul’s performance in all the subjects. In one of the subjects Rahul gets a zero, as he couldn’t attend the exam due to chicken pox.

What is interesting to note is that most companies undertaking these campaigns, especially in the mass media, also have a product in this disease area. So is this a means to advertise the products that otherwise cannot be promoted in mass media?

“The opportunity for a pharma company in public service advertising is that if you have a monopoly market or you are a leader, then by creating awareness and augmenting concern for a particular disease, chances are that people will act to protect themselves, and are likely to buy your brand. Cases in point: Cipla’s Asthma DTC campaign and GSK’s Family Vaccine campaign,” asserts Kapoor. However, in spite of the opportunities, we haven’t seen many campaigns of this kind in the recent times.

“One of the reasons for this is that the outlays required for this kind of activity is high and results take time to crystallise. Even when results are there, they cannot be quantified easily. Hence, it is difficult to convince other stakeholders in the company to go for it,” explains Narayan. As a result, many pharma marketing professionals hesitate to get into this kind of advertising. “The chances of quick wins are slim and when one lives by each quarter’s results, putting money into long-term projects requires some courage and conviction,” he adds.

“On the contrary, most pharma companies are into public service promotion. Probably because these are such localised efforts, specific to a target population, a lot of us do not see the impact as quickly,” contradicts Kapoor. Pharma companies have contributed towards various causes by offering free samples and treatments, conducting health camps, distributing literature about various diseases through leaflets and posters. However, as far as advertising in mass media is concerned, companies base their decisions on the needs of the brand, its position in the market, vis-à-vis, the competition and the cost factor. “Mass media costs are exorbitantly high, and would I spend large sums of money without a certainty of returns to my brand? Prescription products cannot be advertised; therefore if I spend the money and do not get to use my logo, my competition benefits,” points out Kapoor.

Katya Naidu

“Heppos hai jaundice ke dushman. Liver ke dost.” This is the punch line of GlaxoSmithKline’s innovative public awareness initiative to combat the incidence of jaundice (hepatitis). Through HEPPOs, the cute hippopotamus mascots who love living the fun life – GlaxoSmithKline reintroduces their bouquet of hepatitis vaccines – for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and a combination vaccine for Hepatitis A&B, namely, Havrix, Engerix-B and Twinrix.

HEPPOs are fun loving advocates of good health free from common causes of viral hepatitis. These lively, adorable characters provide vital information to help people protect their liver, life and their loved ones from two of the most prevalent causes of jaundice. The three characters A-RIX, B-RIX and AB-RIX talk about Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and educate people and dispel myths about the disease. This campaign has been launched to kick off the Hepatitis Awareness Month in May.

“GSK has been a leader in building consumer awareness through education campaigns and we are proud to present the new superheroes who will champion the cause of spreading awareness on vaccine preventable Hepatitis”, Dr Sanjoy K Datta, Director of Clinical R&D and Medical Affairs of GSK Biologicals – South Asia, said in a release.

An extremely engaging and pioneering approach has been employed to introduce the HEPPOs across nine cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad and Coimbatore. The unique initiative will be rolled out through mass media and outdoor campaigns as well as a distinctive direct-to-consumer outreach programme. The HEPPOs will now be seen on hoardings, buses, trains, newspapers and at prominent malls, where life-size HEPPOs will interact with children and their parents.

Marketing to doctors


Dr J B Smarta, Founder and MD
Interlink Marketing Consultancy

Most awareness campaigns are directed towards the consumer. However, consumers don’t have to know companies’ products because they will not understand the nuances of that product. So, it is not right to advertise prescription products in the market.

“Take the case of this leading brand for a sleeping pill. There is a similar sounding brand for hypertension. If you take the hypertension brand every day, you will die after 20-25 days as you (the final consumer) cannot really distinguish between the two brands,” explains Dr J B Smarta, Founder and Managing Director, Interlink Marketing Consultancy.

Research contradicts

“Through research, we have found that in some conditions, the patient is too hesitant, shy or insecure to visit a doctor. Women continue to suffer from vaginal infections and men from STDs rather than admitting their problem,” argues Kapoor. It is in such situations that public service advertising helps. It assures patients that there are effective products to bring them relief. They just need to consult a doctor. “This can help increase movement to clinics and sell the brand. What is wrong with a win-win situation?” asks Kapoor.

Public Service Vs Corporate branding

Public service ads usually specify the company name after the ad. So even though companies alert the patient community about a particular disease area, causes, its treatment and still tell them to consult a doctor through the campaign, they also promote the company in a very subtle manner.

“Although companies cannot promote their products, they can give them the corporate brand and state that the company is working on such a thing. So people are aware that there is a product from Cipla or Pfizer or GSK. When they see these ads, they can ask their doctors about it. So to that extent it is not even public service advertising, but a clear-cut case of corporate branding,” explains Smarta.

The rationale behind undertaking corporate branding initiatives is to enhance the corporate image and the recall in the minds of the consumers. This is because when it comes to marketing generics, the competition can be tough with many players offering products in the same therapeutic segment. In such a case, if a particular corporate brand is high on the consumer radar, chances are that this recall will translate into sales. Also, if the retail chemist is pushing a particular brand, the consumer can ask for a different one based on top of the mind recall.

The only question that arises now is how we distinguish between a public service ad, a marketing initiative (for prescription products) or a corporate branding initiative. While it makes sense to go for these activities, the final decision to do so rests with individual companies. From a financial and business returns point of view, it calls for some courage and commitment to do it.

As per the law, I can only advertise a prescription product to a doctor. This means that the doctor is the only one who knows about the product. It is essential to keep the doctors in the loop for any brand promotion activity. Doctors need not be informed when there is a social issue or when it is a social promotion.

As far as doctors are concerned, they discover the various prescription products (new ones, brand extensions and so on) through the medical representatives of the organisation, who describe those products to the doctors when they meet them. They also come to know about the products from their peers and by attending various conferences and seminars or when they go to different institutions and hospitals that they work for. Also the Continuing Medical Education Programme, which is compulsory, informs them about new launches.