The End of Medical Advertising (It’s a Good Thing)

February 20, 2018 – MAHF’s new Young Executive’s Action Committee chose Jessica Echertling, Account Director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, to speak at the Annual Awards Dinner on February 8th. Jessica challenged young and seasoned members’ conventional thinking with her speech about the role medicine plays in our lives and why medical advertising, as we know, is coming to an end.

Title: “The End of Medical Advertising (And Why It’s A Good Thing)”

Theme: Medicine plays a bigger role in our lives than ever. And that’s precisely why medical advertising, as we know it, is coming to an end.

Thanks to the changing landscape of media and technology and the rise of consumers who are
more deeply engaged with medicine than ever before, the conversation around medicine has
moved from the doctor’s office to the line at Starbucks to our social feeds. As a result, how we tell
the stories of the medicines that change our lives has changed forever – creating challenges and
opportunities for those in the field.

Speech: Good evening. It’s an honor to be here addressing such a distinguished room of medical advertising professionals, people who will transform our industry by achieving things and overcoming challenges that many of us in this room can’t even imagine.

This is also quite a humbling experience for me, given that I was not a Future Famer myself. But
I got the gig tonight with a very subtle proposal titled: “The end of medical advertising.”

Don’t worry – it’s a good thing!

For decades, medical advertising existed in its own world, with its own rules. Most of us know
these constraints all too well.

Constraints like lists of safety precautions that more than adequately balance your promotional
material, endless MLR reviews, OPDP pre-clearance prior to launch, and just a general feeling
that innovation and creativity are not welcome here.

In the past, it was easy to deal with these constraints, because we were reaching a very specific
audience with a very specific message, in very specific ways. Cue a doctor handing out a
brochure to a patient about a prescribed treatment.

While we’ve all expressed our share of frustrations over these limitations, we should
acknowledge that they can be, in their own strange way, comforting.

All of these rules and regulations come with processes that consume us, but also create a
sense of familiarity and routine. To some, it can be reassuring to know that there’s a framework,
or playbook to follow.

We become complacent. Creativity and innovation take a backseat to compliance. Because of
all the rules you have to follow and all the hurdles you have to clear, your job becomes less about
doing the best work period, and more about doing the best work possible.

Fortunately, or unfortunately for some, that’s all changing.

Today, where, when and how we talk about medicine is changing. And who is talking about it
has grown beyond doctors and patients to include everyone, in everyday conversation.

Thanks to the changing landscape of media and technology and the rise of consumers who are
more deeply engaged with medicine than ever before, the conversation around medicine has
moved from the doctor’s office to the line at Starbucks and to our social feeds. As a result, how
we tell the stories of the medicines that change our lives has changed forever – creating
challenges and opportunities for those of us in the field.

How many of you know the difference between Tylenol and Advil? Which one to take and how
often?

Have you ever had a string of leg pain and headed over to the WebMD symptom tracker for an
immediate response to self diagnose? Sciatica anyone?

Had a tough week? Received bad news? Maybe you saw someone having a great time on
Instagram and it left you feeling bad about yourself. Considered whether you’re suffering from
anxiety or depression?

We’ve all been there. And while these feelings aren’t anything new to us, as humans, the way
we connect the dots from what’s happening in our daily lives to medicine is.

As healthcare marketers, we have been given the challenge and opportunity of telling the story
of how medicine impacts our lives in new ways, in new places, to new audiences.

It’s no longer enough to rely on a doctor to inform the patient. You have to give all members of
the conversation – HCPs, Patients, and Support systems – the information they need to have an
educated conversation that leads to the best treatment possible. In some cases, you have
patients advocating for themselves, and HCPs eager to work in partnership with their patients on
a treatment plan.

I’ve experienced first-hand just how far the conversation around medicine has evolved.

When I was 9 years old, my parents came home from the doctor very confused. My father had
been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, but they weren’t entirely sure what that meant or what
options he had to fight it. It was next to impossible to discuss as a family because it was our first
time learning about cancer, and the only thing we understood was that the prognosis was not
good.

Cancer has always been deadly. But 20 years ago, cancer was much more bewildering than it is
today. Information was hard to come by and even harder to understand. You learned about
cancer when you were told that you or a loved one had it.

Now, I should say that it’s unlikely that being more knowledgeable about cancer would have
impacted the outcome for my father or allowed us to make the experience more comfortable. But I
believe that with greater understanding, our family would’ve had a clearer sense of what was
ahead, the resources available to us, and who we could connect with for support.

Today, I work on campaigns designed to tell the story of how cancer immunotherapy treatments
can improve patients’ lives—in a language that even a 9-year-old can understand.

These campaigns aren’t limited to brochures at a doctors office. Nor do they strictly adhere to
the playbook of medical advertising.

We’ve turned the brand story over to the patients who have benefited from the treatment.

The creative is emotional and imperfect, but strives to speak to the experience of patients and
those around them in a way that’s authentic.

It’s also bracingly honest. It focuses on the small things that more time affords you, instead of
overwhelming with data points. Don’t get me wrong, the data is all there, but we provide a range
of information that at minimum is intended to give people enough information to have a two-way
conversation with their doctor about their treatment options and their personal goals.

For those of us who are working in the field, these changes in consumer behavior and
receptivity to taking an active role in health and medical decisions, we are presented with an
incredible opportunity to break outside the boundaries of “traditional” medical advertising and
think more creatively about how to tell the story of the medicines that impact our lives.

You have an audience that is actively looking to have a conversation. You have people who
aren’t afraid to ask their doctor about what they’ve read and if it’s appropriate for them. It’s a
requirement to include “Talk your doctor”, right? Well, people these days actually do!

The task for you is to gain a deep understanding of the following: How is the category talking?
Who are you speaking to? Are you communicating in a way that’s authentic?

You can’t simply expect to get your approvals and kick your feet up. You’re now expected to
deliver work that keeps pace with the most innovative advertising in any sector while meeting all
of the necessary guidelines.

MLR is not going away. The FDA and its requirements are not going anywhere. So you medical
advertising professionals have to know your stuff. You have to push your teams to think
differently, while still meeting the guidelines.

You have to tell your client’s story in a way that’s credible, responsible and respectful. And that
won’t get them in trouble with the FDA.

In short, you have to be better than everyone else, in just about every way possible. So,
congratulations again for having chosen such an easy field.

But the good news for everyone is, you’re up to the task. Everything I’ve said here, you’re
already living.

And, let’s remember, what we do is worth it. Yes, we have to deal with challenges that our
friends and colleagues don’t. Yes, we’ve been put in the excitingly impossible position of having
to meet the strictest standards while delivering work that stands up to the best in advertising.

So, thank you, and good luck.

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