Posts Tagged ‘audience engagement

25
Sep
15

Humanizing Pharma Advertising

Many factors contribute to the design, structure and content of a Web site. That is, to the extent that it’s profitable to talk about any of these topics in isolation. In the best sites, the three are inextricably linked.

That link is never more crucial than in pharmaceutical sites for consumers where, regulations or no, the exercise is wasted if the message doesn’t reach out over the footlights to address each visitor. “Address,” of course, is too mild a word. An effective site is one that shakes your audience out of its chair and sets it on a path to action.

Keeping in mind that the FDA imposes varying levels of restriction on the story each drug can tell, even within the same drug category, it’s still interesting to compare the approaches taken by different brands. If we look, for example, at sites created for three prescription cholesterol brands, the differences are striking.

Affectless.
Taken at face value and, again, with no knowledge of the regulatory path that was followed, the Crestor site is as neutral and affectless as it could possibly be. I mean, yes, there’s a recurring stock shot of a doctor in a lab coat, as well as a faker-than-fake dramatization shot of a patient reaching her numbers. But that’s about it. Every other aspect of the site is merely “informative.” Nor is the site’s lack of emotion alleviated by the literal adoption of the Crestor logo’s color scheme as the only other design element to speak of.

The site is, in other words, a classic example of Tidy Marketing, in which the only thing that matters is deniability. “Hey, consumers!” the site says, “Everything on these pages is lined up straight. You’re welcome.”

Personable.
The site for Zetia, another cholesterol medication, humanizes a similarly information-dense Web site with a relatively simple device. The headers of each section contain a flash video of an “average person” writing the visitor a note, delineating the topic of that section.

While the video itself is a big step forward toward making the site more welcoming, it’s the understated quality of the actors’ performances that has the greatest impact. Here are people, not icons, sharing the experience with you, with a minimum of artifice or fake backstory.

Responsive.
Livalorx.com, however, takes a more integrated approach to drawing users in. For starters, the home page calls attention to the free cholesterol screenings the brand offers through a mobile diagnostic unit. Sure, that’s not an intrinsic part of the site but, more to the point, it is an intrinsic component of the brand’s overall marketing campaign. As in many other cases, an online presence linked to an offline marketing initiative gives the digital component greater relevance and, as it were, a “spine.”

Within the body of the site, detailed programming allows users to find the most efficient user-path for their particular relationship both to the topic and to the medication. By answering a series of yes or no questions, users get where they need to go fast, without having to conduct an archeological dig.

Contributing to the effectiveness of this approach is the reasonably idiomatic way the questions and responses are written. You quickly lose the feeling you’re talking to a robot, as on one of those annoying voice-activated telephone screeners that never seem to understand you when you say “speak to a representative.”

Additionally, the understated use of animation on interior pages makes them feel responsive. Only the decision to include the horrible cliché of the 50+ hetero couple out on their bikes undercuts the site’s relatively fresh feeling.

Finally, a nearly YouTube-worthy video about drug interactions takes the bold step of using an analogy to explain this topic, apparently unconcerned that someone will think Livalo will also help you park your car. You

While neither the sites for Zetia or Livalo break new ground in terms of marketing ideology, what they demonstrate is how little it takes to communicate to people as opposed to “audience members” or “users.” It’s possible, marketers everywhere, even on a heavily regulated pharma site.

Now if we could steer away from those “What is…?” subject headings, we might begin to see consumer-facing pharmaceutical ads that read less like a child’s first reader from the early 1960s. These desperate measures to ensure clarity are completely unnecessary. What’s needed is the common sense to realize your audience also has common sense.

20
Sep
14

Oh, Those Poppy, Snappy, Smart-mouthed, Rim-shot Headlines

Despite the myriad changes in the advertising world—and the world in general—since the glory days of the early 60s, many creatives still cling to a heroic model of the headline. They yearn for a slam-bam, one-shot, no-nonsense, short-and-sweet, straight-and-to-the-point summation of brand value that’s also provocative, a tad naughty and—of course—cast in the form of a pun.

Now, I have no arbitrary bias against traditional headlines. If a headline works, no one should care what ideo-theoretico-politico bandwagon it jumps on. But to assert that one and only one type of headline is essential to engage your audience is the purest form of nonsense I know.

Just pick your head up from the One Show annual and look around. You’re liable to notice that, aside from a very few universal truths, everybody’s not the same. Even if you could prove that snappy, humorous headlines were the most effective, you’d face a major hurdle: There’s no universal consensus on what’s funny.

It’s hard enough, as many a broadcast TV executive knows, to tap a vein of humor that resonates as well in Camden, NJ as it does in Carmel, CA. Trying to get a rise out of a global audience? Forgetaboutit.

That’s because humor is an outgrowth of a worldview. The ethnic jokes that once dominated stand-up routines in the last century succeeded solely on the basis a shared perspective: Anyone outside the mainstream was considered inherently funny.

Nowadays, even the concept of Mainstream itself has outlived its shelf life as more people recognize how vulnerable the Big Tent is to the winds of change. In light of that, can you seriously assert that only one headline style works?

Formula 10.
And yet it takes very little effort to find advertising and marketing pundits ready to assert they know the Top Ten Ways to grab attention with punchy headlines.

As I see it, the place to start in crafting headlines is the mindset of consumers. Yet, despite today’s insistent rhetoric about “audience engagement,” a copywriter often finds his or her real target is an ideologically-crazed creative director or a box-checking brand manager, whose only business goal is the attainment of plausible deniability.

“Hey, I followed best practice,” says the arrogant fool. “If it didn’t work, you must have targeted the wrong list or screwed up the body copy. But let’s have a breakdown session and figure out where you went wrong so you’ll know for next time.”

And yet, to reach an audience, you must ignore the static and dig out a nugget of truth from your own observations or from the pale wisps of insight that waft in from market research. Brace yourself—you might need to summon the courage to write a headline in plain language, simply because your audience perceives the topic in plain terms.

Needless to say, another factor that ought to enter into the equation is the realization that times change.  The “attitude” humor of the 70s and 80s has long since entered its geriatric phase. If Louis CK can still pull it off, it’s only because he tempers his jibes with a ring of self-deprecating awareness.

Formula zero.
In a related category, in the sense that they’re also the product of mechanical thinking, are headlines cut to fit a familiar template. You know them when you see them:

• Your [life process] is tough. Your [practical function] shouldn’t be
• The [first attribute]-est, [second-attribute]-est [service] just got [first attribute]-er & [second attribute]-er
• Looking for a [positive adjective] [positive noun] without all the [negative noun]?
• The-I-never-thought-[item]-could-[verb phrase]-so-good [same item]
• Why do 4-out-of-5 [practitioner or gender-specific role]s prefer [product or service]?

…and there are many more.

At issue is not templates  themselves, rather that 4-out-of-5 creatives who use them have little regard for the specific people they’re trying to reach. As in, anyone over 40 who has heard these gambits often enough to mistrust them—or anyone under 40 who’s already over you before you can get to the punch line.

That’s because the only way to connect is to look your audience in the eye. Only then do you have a chance to send the most important message of all:

I feel your pain and I’m here to help you relieve it.

If you can do that with a touch of drama or a dash of humor, so be it. Mind you, “pain” can be anything from a medical necessity to the need for a status-enhancing smartphone upgrade. But know that when the metrics come in, success won’t be measured in chuckles or tears, but in how many people empathized with your message, trusted you because of it—and acted on the basis of that trust.

25
Aug
14

Market Research: Railroading Their Train of Thought

Consider the following imaginary train of thought from an fictionalized character in an, as yet, unpublished novel about the advertising industry. The scene is a candle-lit table at a middle-brow bar in a major city:

The standard line about the value of market research? It’s been repeated so many times that…what’s that saying? Oh yeah, “it attains the status of truth.” And let me tell you, that’s in spite  of the fuzzy logic and waffley “results.” You ask me, any market research finding that can be found to be true can be teased out by common sense without spending thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, any finding that’s later proven wrong? Those guys will blame anything except their own so-called methodology. Trust me, they’ll blame the moderator, the media, the weather or, more often than not the “obvious” flaws in the creative. And this from a bunch of nerds who can’t write a headline to save their lives!

Now, surely, the previous two paragraphs sum up an outrageously distorted POV about the profession of market research, as dished out by a curmudgeonly personality who perhaps exhibits the classic symptoms of Oppositional Defianct Disorder. I’m told the character comes to a bad end in Chapter 27.

And yet, as I listen to the literal way market research data are often interpreted, I can’t help wondering if that same urge to generalize at all costs—just for the sake of achieving a tidy assessment—is the sole provenance of cranky nut cases with an axe to grind about scientific marketing methods. Hang out in the more data-driven agencies and you’ll hear some variation of the follow phrase at least once a week:

“This [headline, message, photo, illustration style] tested very well in research.”

…dripping with the unstated assumption that, of course, the element in question should appear word-for-word or pixel-for-pixel in each and every audience outreach from here on out. That is, of course, until the next round of market research yields a different response.

Definitions gone wild.
The problem with such a literal approach to interpreting market research data? Let’s start with the unexamined premise that information collected in a focus group meets the definition of “data” used by, say chemists, astrophysicists or even the current generation of science-savvy chefs. The data of hard science is numerical, measurable, repeatable.

By contrast, the survey responses and focus group voting we’re pleased to call data in market research is subjective—not only at a fundamental level, but also because we have no basis for knowing whether respondents are sharing their true feelings, or merely spitting out an answer that supports a cherished self-image. Market research methodology, we’re told, works around this issue by asking the same question from different angles and then checking for discrepancies.

Trouble is, people just aren’t so stupid that they can’t see this coming. Nor can we be scientifically certain that a question asked in a different way isn’t, essentially a different question, the answer to which has no relation to any quantifiable norm.

Truth, like fire. Heartwarming, handle with care.
No matter how you slice it, market research data is therefore interpreted for you, before you receive it—once by the participants and once by the researchers.

All the more reason not to treat it literally, but to continue the process of interpretation within the scope of your own discipline. Much as I value learning that consumers value products and services that give them a balance of freedom and control, I would never recommend a headline dominated by the words “Freedom” and “Control”—as I was required to produce early in my career— for two reasons.

First, the words themselves are generic, capable of almost universal application and, as such, brand neutral. Second, doing so ignores an important aspect about human nature: the need to save face. There are, in fact, many things about ourselves we know to be true, many of them are not things we’re ready to acknowledge out in the open. Instead, we need a buffer zone which, in the case of advertising, or PR or, dare I say, guerrilla marketing, means an approach that evokes our self-knowledge rather than slaps us in the face with it.

Contrary to the cowboy marketer’s mandate to put “the point” on stilts and showcase it in the most lurid colors available, my own unscientific research tells me thousands of people are turned off by unrelenting sales pressure. All the more so by unrelenting sales pressure that so obviously seeks to manipulate them by dragging their innermost thoughts into the spotlight.

Rather like the phrase “you know you want to” in a very different context, this kind of literal use of even the most spot-on observational analysis is doomed to failure.




Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY

m.laporta@verizon.net
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