A conversation about social media in Latin America

Gustavo Pratt

asterisco healthcare communications

In our digital and social media focus month, Gustavo Pratt highlights a fictional Twitter conversation between an advertising agency and a pharma company about implementing a social media strategy in Latin America. The use of social media by individuals in LATAM is high, but in the corporate space it’s low. Gustavo shares his top tips on how a healthcare company can use social networking sites to its advantage.

Somewhere in Mexico City, 7:22 pm. Traffic is crazy, as it always is at this hour. It is your typical Wednesday in a big city in Latin America. Everybody is trying to get home at the same time. Cars are everywhere. Desperate people are using their cell phones to call their family to tell them that they are going to be late. The others are “checking in” into their Four Squares, others are just looking at the new stories of their Facebook pages, some are reviewing their emails…and even answering. Most of them are using Whatsapp, the free message mobile app, to keep in contact with friends…

But we are interested in one single conversation, a Twitter one-on-one between a pharma client and his advertising agency:

Juan@bigpharmaclient Dear Esteban, we have been considering launching a Facebook page for our drug in Mexico and Latin America, can you help us?

Esteban@innovation_adagency Dear Juan, it sounds great!


“The LATAM market is hooked with Facebook, for personal reasons…”

As you might know we can´t advertise the drug, but we can talk about the disease and education for the patients.

Juan@bigpharmaclient Ok, we have no experience what so ever using the social media tools and our global office is still on the debate of the use (or not) of social media and the legislation by the FDA. Can we make it work in our country?

Esteban@innovation_adagency We have experience with other clients, that are not pharma, but we have to be very careful of what we do, how we do it and the final purpose of having a Facebook page. We have to be open minded to receive the critics or applauses, since we will only be setting the stage. Let´s put it this way, we will set up the table, a great table for someone else to have dinner…we will only see them eating.

Juan@bigpharmaclient Keep going…

Esteban@innovation_adagency The LATAM market is hooked with Facebook, for personal reasons, from our “latino culture” we share a lot of the personal stuff. Also I can tell you that many people join groups to share experiences, I have a perfect example: a page to talk about rare diseases. With the correct advertising within the Facebook world, we could get 5000 followers in 3 months, you just have to be promoting and guiding the topics that you want to address with your community which share the same interest. There are more than 125 million people on Facebook in Latin America.

Juan@bigpharmaclient But do you mention the name of the brand? How can I capitalize the success of the page?

Esteban@innovation_adagency Directly, you can´t.

It will work similar to what your sales force accomplishes when they leave the doctor’s office. Reps don’t necessarily close a sale, they hope that their message and presentation has been impactful enough to convince them to prescribe, but at the end, they don’t know. Same with social media. You will be building a page that will give clear and trustworthy information and education to patients, which will guide them to the physicians that your sales force is visiting, therefore you close the gap and have the sale and a more educated patient.

But we can’t expect to see revenue directly from Facebook.

Juan@bigpharmaclient But the investment is too much!!!!


“But we can’t expect to see revenue directly from Facebook.”

Esteban@innovation_adagency Yes, sometimes it is. But I see it a long-term commitment from your brand – big pharma need to start educating the patients with clear, consistent information. A page like this is better than “Dr Google”, right? We are not looking at it as redemption, but as a true form of dedicated commitment.

Juan@bigpharmaclient I know, but pharma companies have been considered in the past as the companies that take advantage of the patients…

Esteban@innovation_adagency But with these tools, I think we can set the record straight. The drug will not be talking to the patient. A responsible, committed patient company will.

Juan@bigpharmaclient Agreed.

Esteban@innovation_adagency Also, we have been having great connectivity with doctors through LinkedIn, on a more professional level.

Juan@bigpharmaclient Go on…

Esteban@innovation_adagency Since it is a one-on-one channel of communications, and it is a professional networking tool, we have been very successful launching campaigns and message directly to specific doctors. LinkedIn is growing in Mexico and LATAM, with more than 10 million users, now the people are seeing the value. There are almost 10,000 doctors in Mexico today. So it is really a tool to consider.

Juan@bigpharmaclient What else can you tell me before I arrive home?

Esteban@innovation_adagency Social media in Mexico and all across LATAM is becoming a powerful force. A force that we will not be tamed, a force that we can´t control, but a force (like in Judo) that we can use in our advantage by creating a more educated patient from a platform that is not dedicated for education but is where the heart, soul and brain are connected and there is no barrier to slow it down. If we understand the process of how the social networks works, we can take the advantage of been closer to the patients, bringing the mission of the real pharma companies to life to develop better medicines and help patients.


“Social media in Mexico and all across LATAM is becoming a powerful force.”

Juan@bigpharmaclient Well said, amigo! See you tomorrow on Facebook, ok? By the way, I love your last Instagram photo!!!!

Esteban@innovation_adagency Thank you Juan, see you tomorrow.

Tips on how to use social networking sites in LATAM

The social networks are living, breathing organisms, which we need to treat like that. We need to enrich them with true content, not just marketing or branding, especially in Latin America, since we decide things with the heart and gut, more than the brain.

Here are five innovative tips to use the social networks in LATAM and any other regions of the world:

1) Understand how it works: start by your own experience as a user. Take notes, understand your behaviour. Then see it from the distance with a business perspective.

2) Select the perfect social network for your brand. Not all the social networks will fit your product or disease – you will have to select the ones that really connect with the audience you are looking for. For instance, the use of Instagram for a brand would be irrelevant, unless you hire a professional photographer to shoot for Coca-Cola with the topic “coca-cola experiences in the world” and it becomes more of artistic experience.

3) The right content by the right content manager. You should have a well trained content manager that understand your communications plan, what he can talk about and how to motivate the people to post comments and experiences.

“Not all the social networks will fit your product or disease – you will have to select the ones that really connect with the audience you are looking for.”

4) Keep an open mind. Not all comments and posts will be great. Some of them will criticize your drug, treatment and mostly pricing. Keep an open mind and create contingency plans to deal with such comments and don´t take it personally. Transform those bad comments into opportunities to get closer to patients.

5) I-N-N-O-V-A-T-E. Keep innovating, keep evolving, keep looking for the new social networks that will come with time. Experience them and fail. Only by failing can we grow and become better.

Create those successful social media stories that will push our industry forward. Now more than ever we need people to take risks and changes to make our great industry grow.

Keep the ideas and experiences coming…all the pharma brands and patients need them.



About the author:

“Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower.”

Gustavo Pratt has always been on the quest of innovation, change and challenge in the status quo of pharma advertising. His story is very rich and solid in both the creative and strategic environments. He started his career in advertising at BBDO Mexico where he worked on the Pepsi, Gamesa and FedEx accounts. After that, he joined Ammirati Puris Lintas and was in charge of accounts like GE, Nestlé chocolates, Tetra Pak, and Bayer. Later he worked for Bancomer, Sonrics candy, Janssen-Cilag, Volkswagen and McDonald’s at DDB. At Saatchi &amp, Saatchi, he launched SKY Satellite TV in Mexico. Finally, he worked for Young &amp, Rubicam as Creative Director for AT&amp,T and AT&amp,T Latam, Danone and Phillip Morris. Then he ventured as a partner in CMV Advertising (small creative boutique that later turn into a full agency) where he worked for Bally Total Fitness Gyms, Starbucks, Royal &amp, SunAlliance, Reebok, Xerox and Pfizer (Viagra, Detrol, Dostinex &amp, Norvasc). And there a relationship started with GSW to handle the Lilly accounts for Diabetes and CNS, that earns the agency the recognition in the marketplace and sets the course of becoming a full healthcare ad agency.

After participating in three Global Creative Exercises for GSW, Gustavo was “abducted” by GSW to become the VP International Creative Director, responsible for organizing and participating in the Global Creative Waves, also been the link internationally to keep the creative teams together, inspiring them to do great and liberating work. He worked for the global brands of the Lilly Diabetes Franchise, Renagel, Saflutan and Byetta, etc. He created the Global Diabetes Franchise Campaign for Lilly, The Bydureon Global Campaign and also on the Zyprexa and Relprevv global campaigns. He also did creative training for the GSW offices around the world, coordinating creative ideation, execution and production. Then he was selected to lead the new GSW agency in Mexico as General Manager and lead the agency to have more 30 brands in 2 years. After that, Gustavo joined the Sudler&amp,Hennessey team as managing director and taking the agency into new creative territory.

Now, following in the footsteps of many entrepreneurs in the industry, Gustavo has decided to open his own agency: *Asterisco. His agency will focus on creative innovation to push the pharma advertising world forward. *Asterisco is currently working with the following clients: Astra Zeneca, Sanofi, Genzyme, Lundbeck, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Stendhal, 3M, Liomont, Biomédica de Referencia and Alestra.

How can pharma continue to innovate its use of social media?