A colleague recently passed along an article detailing 26 medical startups that target rare diseases. Scientifically it was an impressive list, featuring mRNA, RNA, gene therapy and other platforms that use the body’s own cellular machinery to treat disease versus more traditional medicines that ‘poison’ enzymes or other biomolecules.
Creatively speaking, it was a different story. With few exceptions, by the time I looked at the 26th website I had little recall of which company did what or what made each unique. Claims, imagery, brand voice – it all dissolved into a sea of sameness. The name of the game in biopharma these days is securing funding, landing great talent and partnerships, and finding patients for your trials. But what are the implications of trying to meet these goals when your brand voice is timid, and you look like everyone else?
Of course this is a highly regulated industry, but there are plenty of companies creatively thriving under the same regulatory restrictions. Peel back the onion a bit and you get at why these organizations succeed: they talk about themselves in ways that are surprising and appropriate at the same time. Which is in fact my favorite definition of creativity.
Here are six organizations in the biopharma ecosystem that we admire because they do the work to stand out.
The company: Glaxo Smith Kline
The best practice: Give the patient the power to self-diagnose.
The campaign: Breath of Life
Why it works: This campaign to educate older Chinese citizens about COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) created a diagnostic tool anyone with a mobile phone and WeChat, China’s most popular app, could use. By blowing into their phones while on the app, consumers created a virtual blow painting (a traditional Chinese artform) while an algorithm tracked the sound waves to their lung capacity. If the user’s ‘tree’ was under a certain size, the app alerted them to make an appointment with a hospital for a check-up. This is a breakthrough idea in a country where more than half of adult men still smoke regularly and fewer than seven percent of COPD cases are properly diagnosed.
The company: Bio-Rad
The best practice: Use audience insights to go deep on company stakeholders.
The campaign: Powering Exceptional Labs
Why it works: This website gets beyond the clichés of lab workers as white-coated automatons. To draw on some of the headlines from the handsomely designed microsite, lab workers are the stubborn, unwavering, passionate perfectionists that push research and medicine forward. They are a core part of Bio-Rad’s broader community, and an underappreciated one. The site’s Lab Personality Quiz allows viewers to add their voices, while the campaign video provides insights into the lab worker’s world outside the sterile benchtops where they put in long days to ensure healthcare quality control remains at its highest possible level.
The company: Insmed
The best practice: Get at the emotional core of the patient’s world to give the undiagnosed hope.
The campaign: A Thousand Words About NTM
Why it works: The hallways of many biopharma companies feature art created by employees and patients. Insmed took this idea to a new level by pairing NTM (non-tuberculosis mycobacterial lung disease) patients with professional artists, who interpreted their stories into wrenching visual accounts of how the lived experience of an undiagnosed condition can leave you feeling isolated and miserable. These images take on renewed power in an age of “Long-Haul” COVID, whose very real symptoms are repeatedly dismissed by medical professionals, insurers, and disability benefits administrators.
The organization: Know Your Lemons Foundation
The best practice: Develop a concept that’s simple enough for anyone to understand.
Why it works: KYL, whose mission is “to improve early detection for breast cancer worldwide through creative and empowering education,” has reached more than 1 billion people with its breakthrough campaigns that use the symbol of the lemon to represent the breast. Breast cancer is the last topic that women in many cultures want to talk about, but KYL’s visual trope has crossed borders around the world by being instantly relatable. As a result, the topic is acceptable and talking about it is no longer taboo.
The company: Lilly
The best practice: Meet patients exactly where they are – in their condition and their media consumption.
The campaign: Off to a Good Start
Why it works: Type 2 diabetes affects 1 in 10 Americans, but even its prevalence doesn’t guarantee that newly diagnosed patients can find relatable disease management content that makes their lives easier. Lilly strikes a tricky balance with Off to a Good Start, which uses illustration-based animations, sixth grade reading level vocabulary, and a reassuring tone. Assets are primarily available on Facebook, where they have reached more than 35 million viewers and generated 93 million video views, with a video watch time twice the Facebook average. These assets lead viewers to the Lilly Diabetes site, where they can find the library of videos as well as helpful, printable infographics.
The company: Meiji
The best practice: Compel people in public to stop, look, and learn.
The campaign: Immune system
Why it works: To draw attention to its work creating therapies for the human immune system and inflammatory disorders, this campaign from Japanese biotech Meiji uses gorgeous illustrations of the immune system that might have come from Michelangelo’s notebooks. This ‘experienced-based learning exhibition” created by Dentsu for Meiji, and illustrated by Japanese designer Masanobu Ishii, appeared across Tokyo metro stations. The work truly stands out when most out-of-home biopharma campaigns feature stock photos of patients with headlines touting the company’s patient centricity.
What do these six very different campaigns have in common? They all use creative (surprising + appropriate) techniques to generate immediacy – immediacy with employees, with patients’ struggles, and with the impact of medical breakthroughs. At PJA we like to say that your marketing should be as innovative as your technology. Similarly, in biopharma your brand should be as disruptive as your molecule or your therapeutic platform. The inspiration on display in these campaigns is, for want of a better word, contagious, so consider some of these practices in your next campaign or initiative. The stakes – and the upside – in biopharma couldn’t be greater.