Death of the visual aid

Gustavo Pratt

*asterisco healthcare communications

To coincide with our med comms focus, Gustavo Pratt compares the role Arthur Miller plays in the Death of a Salesman with the role the sales rep plays in real life, for the pharma industry. Are visual aids on their way out? What is next? Read on to find out…

Many critics consider the Pulitzer award play Death of a Salesman to be the first American tragedy and the one that gained Arthur Miller the reputation of understanding the essence (today we might call it the DNA) of the United States of America.

His main character is a 1949 salesman named Willy – in a way, very similar to the pharma reps that walk the streets of London, New York, Toronto or Mexico City.

Willy is a door-to-door salesman. His work was complicated, frustrating and at the end of the play he dies (I’m not revealing anything since the end is already in the title) but the interesting thing is that he could never escalade away from his reality or status quo…he remained the same “sales rep” until his last days. He didn’t change his way of selling. He didn’t evolve to different tools, he didn’t consider innovation as a part of his day. He died inside his own routine.

This is also happening now. Today. It is happening to those of us working in the pharma advertising industry. The era of the visual (or sales) aid is dying. The time of having just a master tool to sell our prescription drugs and convince the physician is gone…and I’m not just talking about the printed version, also the digital visual aid is going into cardiac arrest.

Our world is moving at the speed of light, with new devices and applications being launched into the market every day for each and every need we have, and if we thought we didn’t have a need, the same app creates the need for us.

What was a trend in November 2012 is history today – we see a movie in March and it is available for early digital release only three months later. And whether we like it or not, physicians live in the same world and are part of this same reality. They have iPhones, laptops, iPads and they too are even moving to EMR software, such as the HelloHealth® platform, to bring patients closer to their health and their practice.


“Our world is moving at the speed of light, with new devices and applications being launched into the market every day.”


Today, patients and physicians are sharing information in the digital realm and creating their own internet environment.

And pharma is still behind that, just selling products with a visual aid on the iPad. What will be next? A pocket-sized visual aid that runs in the iPad Mini?

We have to evolve even faster than doctors. We have to take the lead and actually kill the sales aid. We have to surprise physicians in each and every visit they offer us (yes, we have to understand that their time is money and they are giving that time for free!). So, for the time that we are getting, what are we giving back? Here´s the answer…

We have to give them an EXPERIENCE. A year full of experiences. Using our digital tools we can make 12 different voyages to the DNA of the brand, let them play with an app that tells the MOA, take them to a Virtual Reality trip inside their own office or give them a glow-in-the-dark QR code so they can access special clinical data online as a VIP treatment.

The time has come to see the physician as a person. As one of us. A man or woman who goes to the movies and buys popcorn, who downloads music for their iPod, has to pay bills and most important, wants to be surprised and amazed each and every day.

This is not an easy task. The commitment for the creative and strategic people working in pharma advertising is greater than ever. We have to move fast, to innovate and to surprise first our clients so they see the potential to surprise their physicians with an experience they will never forget.


“The time has come to see the physician as a person. As one of us.”


So the next time we are thinking of developing our brand plan or the next visual aid, just consider this:

1. Innovate your brand. Think, how can I innovate the brand, treating it like the big brand names, Nike, Apple or Starbucks, AND THEN ACTUALLY DO IT? You have 12 sales visits a year (on average), so use them!

2. Evolve your sales visit. Evolve your sales reps by involving them in the process – they have great ideas also so have them join your brainstorming session and bring the insights that are needed to give them back great, powerful, passionate and surprising ideas.

3. Believe in your work. Believe it can create a difference. Believe that you can change the physician’s world and you will do it.

And after you have done everything, INNOVATE AGAIN!!!!

That’s when real innovative transformation will come. And to finish this piece, I leave you with an inspirational quote, not from Arthur Miller, but from a colleague:

Come to the edge.

We can´t. We´re afraid.

Come to the edge.

We can´t. We’ll fall.

Come to the edge.

And they came.

And he pushed them…and they flew.

About the author:

“Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower.”

Gustavo Pratt has always been on the quest for innovation, change and challenge in the status quo of pharma advertising. His story is 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 keep up with innovation?