What Are IDEAs Made Of: Communications

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

It used to be that those involved in the process of communication understood which part of the process they were delivering against. Whether you use IDEA’s 5I’s model for the ways that people become engaged in communal activity (Interruption, Information, Interest, Intention, Involvement), or a 6A’s model for their product engagement (Attention, Awareness, Acceptance, Agreement, Action, Advocacy – yes, they’re very similar, but different in many meaningful ways…), it is clear that there are several different job descriptions for the activities that drive ‘communication’.

In pharma, so much effort is spent on Interruption/Attention via sales, advertising or PR, or on Information via medical literature/conferences, etc., that the ‘what’ can be forgotten.

Anyone who has sat on a plane, studiously ignoring the safety instructions of the cabin staff before take-off knows how hard gaining attention can be, even when that information is pretty important. Honestly, if you were subjected to a spot search (“Excuse me, madam, can you tell me where your life vest is situated, or where the oxygen masks will be?”), would you pass with flying colours? So, gaining attention is important, but ways to gain attention can also sit at odds with the thing that is being communicated – they’re not the same thing. However, pharma seems set to continue to ignore this, and confuse the method for gaining attention with the message.


“…gaining attention is important, but ways to gain attention can also sit at odds with the thing that is being communicated – they’re not the same thing.”

Awards continue to be handed out for advertising that entertains, which is a good old fashioned way of delivering interruption of attention. For physicians now well used to TV and internet advertising, competition for attention cannot be taken for granted. However, once that attention is gained, unfortunately, the message delivered is rarely more than ‘liberate your patients from the burden of their disease.’ Now, ‘be a really nice guy’ may be a platitude, but it is certainly not something guaranteed to deliver agreement or action to prescribe your drug. Recently, I saw an advert paid for (presumably paid for) by the Fire Service, which said ‘Don’t Forget To Check The Battery In Your Smoke Alarm.’ I don’t know about you, but the last time someone told me not to forget something, I forgot. Oddly enough, suggesting that someone not forget to not forget is rather ridiculously illogical. Which makes that advert almost wholly useless. Just like most pharma advertising…

Sorry, did I just make a broad, sweeping statement? Of course, I meant all advertising but your own.

Seriously, how many times have you seen an ad agency try to make a feature of a Kaplan-Meier curve? The first time, fine. But the seventh time you’ve seen a Kaplan-Meier curve turned into a lifeline, a waterfall or a wrinkle for a smiling eye, don’t you think you’re into the point of telling a generic story that your drug makes an indistinguishable difference to survival? How many asthma ads show someone delighted to be breathing better..?

Whereas, as a counterpoint, we once asked a marketing team “do a lot of physicians use your drug a little, or do a few use it a lot?” Shockingly, we got a lot of excuses as to why they didn’t have that information, but we didn’t get an answer. Would an answer to that question not suggest two wholly different communication strategies to you? (Answer: yes.) Continuing to throw advertising or reps at that drug could only be done blind, without knowledge of what story to tell, or why.


“Choosing a generic approach to communicating can only possibly result in a generic outcome”

Communication is a tool that does a job. The job that it does (or jobs) is to be defined ahead of choice of medium, message or method. Choosing a generic approach to communicating can only possibly result in a generic outcome, one that will have about as much effect as the next safety briefing you ignore.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

The next WAIMO piece will be in a couple of weeks.

Have communication approaches become too generic?