Concept Diagnosis

Taking the pulse of the worst & best in healthcare advertising

Month: October 2014

My Knight In Tainted Armor


The creative team is gathered at the Round Table. Before them is their quest, two words written on a brief: POWERFUL PROTECTION. Where for art thou, Sir Metaphor??

What’s not to like about Knights? They fought bravely, wore cool protective armor, held shields branded with their own personal logos, they jousted and lived by a moral code of chivalry. Knights are the epitome of “powerful protection”. There are many drugs on the market that also offer powerful protection. “Hey, let’s use an ancient medieval icon to represent our modern therapy”, said too many agency creatives (and probably a few brand managers).

Velcade-2008How will this icon represent the brand? Will it make an emotional connection with physicians and be imprinted in their minds and hearts or will it quickly say “powerful protection” for a fleeting moment until a journal page is turned or an iPad screen swiped?

VELCADE (multiple myeloma) has its purple knight poised for battle with rays of hope beaming through a rather large transparent shield. If you look closer, it may not be a knight at all, but rather a member of the riot police about to beat down an insurgent crowd. Regardless, a physician will only spend 1-3 seconds taking it all in, so for practical reasons, let’s say it’s the Purple Knight.

There is promise on the horizon (note the rising sun) with DEXILANT (GERD). This knight, glistening in highly polished armored, proudly displays anDexilant2012 infographic shield. Take heed, your strongest icons are singular in focus. Here, the DEXILANT knight is attempting multiple messages, “power, day and night.” Just to make sure the reader gets it, “power” is highlighted in bold lime green in the headline. And in case you don’t associate knights with heartburn, the indication is presented in 700pt type. My only question is, “Where is the fire-breathing GERD dragon?”

REYATAZ (HIV) gives you double protection with two layers of knighthood, but only if you’re wearing a branded sweater.


PerjetaEvery knight knows that you are vulnerable if you leave the castle wearing only your “chain mail” (the layer of tiny metal ring linked together in a mesh pattern). Right before your eyes, PERJETA (breast cancer) transforms gold mesh into gold-plated armor for gold standard protection!

If you have a gun (or a sword) to your head and have to use a metaphor, a rule of thumb is do something to it to make it unique, so that it stands apart from its clichéd predecessors. Does it make the concept any less pharma-cheesical? No, but at least it won’t be a carbon copy of another brand’s used icon, which is what INCIVEK (Hep C) did with their knight.

Incivek2012INCIVEK supersized their jousting knight with “SPEED, POWER and PRECISION” by putting him on a high-tech motorcycle, lance in hand and branded cape flying, having just pierced and destroyed a Hepatitis C cell. Is it memorable compared to other knight icons? Yes. Is it still a cliché? Yes.


The motorcycle jousting scene

knightriders_ver2_xlgWhile I’m still not a fan of this concept, there is a special place in my heart for this particular icon because it makes an emotional connection with me. Why? It takes me back to 1981, to a movie from my youth that I fell in love with but haven’t seen in decades. If you like Arthurian legends, then you must check out Knightriders, directed by George Romero and starring a young Ed Harris as the leader of a group of traveling knights who compete in jousts on motorcycles at Renaissance Fairs. It was a current take on Camelot, although 1981 is already feeling like the Middle Ages. I’ve always wondered if the creative team was “inspired” by this movie, with its knights on bikes, and if I was the only one this icon made a human connection with? Want to use metaphors? “We are the Knights who say NO!” (Monty Python & The Holy Grail reference).

“…going off the rails on a crazy train”


Ozzy Osbourne was right. Creativity can go off the rails pretty quickly. The problem with most metaphors is that they’re not ownable, especially in HCP communication. The more you use them, the greater the chance of a train wreck, as we witness with these four campaigns.

Four different agencies each had a creative brief with these words, most likely, as the main point: RAPID & POWERFUL.  What happened behind closed agencies doors is known only by the creators of these campaigns.  Were the concepts agency driven or client driven?  Did they start off as insight driven communication that made an emotional connection with the healthcare professional or did the client ask for an icon to tell a two-part story? The stories behind campaigns are endless and unique. For all we know, these campaigns may have been the most successful in the brands’ history, and hats off if they were!  Or, perhaps conveying information alone wasn’t enough to change customer behavior.

The lesson here is exercise caution when using metaphors. If you’re going to go down that road (or those tracks), check to make sure they haven’t been done before or recently. While one could argue that they’re for different indications and don’t compete directly with each other, a physician may be exposed to all four. Cover over the logo on each of the ads and the visual becomes generic. “Generic? But they’re branded!” Yes, they are. PICATO (for actinic keratosis) is the high-tech train of the future; RAPAFLO is branded blue for the watery world of BPH and it would seem that the AFINITOR (oncology) and STRIBILD (HIV) trains came off the same production line. At the end of the day they’re just locomotives parked in the West Side Rail Yards at Penn Station.


Hippocrates“It is far more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” -Hippocrates

Even the Father of Medicine felt it was important to “walk in the customer’s shoes”.


You may have a mild case of the Pharma-cheesical

Is your latest concept depicting boxing gloves to address your brand’s “one-two punch” strategy? Do you see hour-glasses when you think of time or lions when you envision power?  Well I’m sorry to inform you that these are just a few of the signs and symptoms of the “Pharma-cheesical” virus.

Pharma-cheesical is a medical term referring to the cliches of healthcare advertising that causes communication to be bland and anemic, lacking personality or insights. This is often accompanied by the use of rehashed, ridiculous metaphors that have no emotional connection to the patient or physician. The Pharma-cheesical virus may also cause you to depict patients gardening, kayaking or taking relaxing strolls on a beach…because all seniors on therapy partake in these activities every day.

We’ve all been afflicted by this creatively insidious virus maybe once or twice in our careers. It’s very contagious, often spread by clients who are uncomfortable with provocative ideas and doctors in market research who don’t believe in marketing but whose comments are taken as law. Young creative teams are also susceptible to Pharma-cheesical while searching for inspiration on stock image sites.

There is no preventative vaccine. Washing your hands with soap and water several times a day won’t help. The only way to protect yourself from the Pharma-cheesical virus is EDUCATION. Know the signs and avoid them, pure and simple and boost your conceptual immune system by understanding what great looks like and why.



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