Wake up advertising…things have changed!

Ángel González


Escaping out of the comfort zone is not an easy task. I heard this statement for the first time attending the World Innovation Forum in New York City back in May 09.

A few months before, I had decided to make a radical change to my life by learning to become an entrepreneur…and it was about time! I left behind almost three decades of an exciting professional career in the “traditional advertising world”, the last 10 years within the pharmaceutical sector, to start to pave a new path fostered by the ‘Social Web’ revolution and driven by the dream and vision that healthcare marketing and advertising would no longer be the same in the upcoming landscape.

More accurately, I should say that whatever is coming is much more than a new scenario, it is an absolute change of paradigm still ongoing and always beta, that is giving shape to what we are not yet capable of inferring in an accurate way.

Advertising and marketing dealing with the new markets of conversations is the big challenge, and realizing that you no longer have the total control of the brand message is difficult to assume and scary. But wanted or not, the conversation is out there clearly influencing the equity of your product, service or institution.


“…realizing that you no longer have the total control of the brand message is difficult to assume and scary.”


Health care providers (HCPs) are right now storytelling their opinions, experiences, unmet needs, therapeutic strategies and ideas via the Social Web. They are looking for networking, connectivity and knowledge in these new ecosystems which are “common and global grounds” to enjoy the social feeling under the principles of transparency, joy, no inhibition, sincerity, honesty and generosity. The word of mouth surpasses, in terms of credibility and efficacy, traditional communication tools such as sales reps, scientific congresses, advertising and KOL´s top down messages…the pyramid is being re-shaped.

There is a manifesto posted recently by a Spanish internist asking pharma companies to stop drug promotion via sales reps. The blog is being spread across the web like wild fire, and many doctors of different specialities are openly showing their support: “stop advertising, start socializing”, as the social media guru Reggie Bradford states. And this is just a local sample of a groundswell phenomenon addressing this particular issue in a global basis.

In addition to that, the new, educated patient is contributing with significant weight to the above mentioned change of paradigm: no longer passive and scared, and from now on enabled, engaged, active, electronic, connected, social and educated. They strongly demand reciprocity, respect and being carefully listened to.

Needless to say that other actors and players of the healthcare value chain are facing the same issue: nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, scientific societies, etc. The age of paternalistic medicine is ending whereas the age of participatory medicine has begun. Everyone empowered by the Social Web demands to co-create…and that is good news: “the many are smarter than the few” is very true Mr. James Surowiecki!

However, the reality is that social media adoption is taking its time in Spanish pharmaceutical marketing and in the rest of Europe. I would point to two main reasons: firstly the lack of knowledge regarding the “big and very valuable picture of social media”, and secondly the fear of embracing risk by being the first innovators (the risk around dealing with regulatory issues, including eventual adverse event reports). However, healthcare social media is an unstoppable trend, whether they want to or not those responsible for branding, communication and marketing will have to escape from their comfort zone and embrace the possibility of failure.


“…branding, communication and marketing will have to escape from their comfort zone and embrace the possibility of failure.”


This is the reason why so many people are making such a great effort in evangelizing and mentoring the market while closely observing all the great opportunities the Social Web is continually bringing…it is a kind of “catch 22” where share and learn are taking place at the same time. Everyone wants to know from the experts…but nobody can be tagged as a real guru.

In the meantime, there are the first attempts at starting to use social media in therapeutic areas such as oncology, contraception, skin care, HIV and genetics, among others. These initiatives – still shy but brave – are intended to engage and foster conversations between patients and HCPs.

In general terms, agencies need to be radically reinvented: the model, as we have known it, is over. Some agency professionals must be willing to leave their vanity and realize that “there is life after the 30 seconds TV commercial”. This is a great chance to go back to the basics of advertising, because the essence of our business, meaning building strong brands, remains the same. It is just a question of thinking that it is a must, not a nice-to-have, to consider social media as part of the mainstream communication mix.

We all know that doing things differently is scary, especially where it so challenges the establishment and status quo. But as one amusing parody on YouTube points out, change is a better alternative to extinction for today’s advertising agencies.

And fortunately, things have changed…forever.

About the author:

Ángel González is the Founder and CEO of Ideagoras, a pharma advertising company based in Spain that is embracing the opportunities of social media. At its heart, Ideagoras is a business ecosystem that has as its core principle innovation in creating brand experiences and in bringing and managing change in organizations. For direct enquiries he can be emailed at angel.gonzalez@ideagoras.biz or visit www.ideagoras.biz for more information.

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