Can Pharma Have an Old Spice Guy? Pharmas Problems With Personality

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

Its no shock that on Monday, February 8, 2010, people were buzzing about the Superbowl game the day before. What was a surprise is that they werent necessarily talking about the New Orleans Saints first Superbowl win against the Indianapolis Colts they were most likely gushing over the Weiden + Kennedy Old Spice Commercial that made its debut on television screens all across the country.

“The Man Your Man Could Smell Like is a series of 33-second commercials starring actor and former NFL wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa. In the first and most widely recognized commercial (above), Mustafa plays the pompous stud of every womans dreams inviting us on a private yacht, buying us “two tickets to that thing we love, transforming the tickets into a handful of diamonds, and capping off the whole fantasy on a horse. Wheres the selling point? If we replace that ladies scented body wash our men have been using with Old Spice, hed somehow turn into Isaiah Mustafa¢‚Ǩ¬¶or at least smell like him.

From there, the campaign took off, turning into a social media phenomenon. This past Tuesday, July 13, Old Spice enabled fans to submit their questions for Mustafa via Twitter. “Today could be just like the other 364 days you log into twitter,” read a mysterious morning tweet on the official Old Spice account, “Or maybe the Old Spice man shows up.” Americas shirtless sweetheart wasted no time posting responses via personalized YouTube videos, fielding questions such as “What would happen if you were in a room with a pirate and a ninja?, flirting with actresses Alyssa Milano, and even facilitating a marriage proposal.

Its almost passé at this point to call Old Spices “Man Your Man Could Smell Like brilliant. Outspoken Medias Chief Branding Officer Lisa Barone lays out in a blog post all the things that made it truly out-of-this-world remarkable which also reads as a handbook to creating effective personality-based marketing campaigns:

  1. It was done in real time
  2. It created personal connections
  3. You cant watch just one
  4. They got the media involved
  5. Its fun

So take a look at your Pharma marketing efforts. Now back at the Old Spice campaign. Now back at your Pharma marketing efforts. Now back at the Old Spice campaign. Sadly, your Pharma marketing efforts arent anything like the Old Spice campaign. Heres why.

The industry has long been struggling to put a human face to its products, most of them somber, and most of them unsuccessful. For example, raise your hand if you a.) saw Dwayne “The Rock Johnsons diabetes PSA for Novo Nordisk, b.) attended Tim Gunns Psoriasis awareness fashion show sponsored by Amgen and Wyeth c.) remember who Holly Marie Combs is and why J&J paired her with their Ortho McNeil contraceptives.

Considering the amount of times Pharma has fumbled the ball with celebrity endorsements, its a wonder why we keep at it. Back in 2002, we all learned an important lesson in disclosure. Reuters revealed the Man Behind the Curtain with an article that shamed Pharma companies for “covert drug endorsements by celebrities. Musician Ann Wilson promoted the lap band weight-loss treatment on CBS Early Show, actress Kathleen Turner appeared on ABC and CNN promoting arthritis drug Enbrel, and Lauren Bacalls Today Show interview on behalf of Novartis often gets blamed as the smoking gun. And the struggle continues: in September 2008, blogger Wendy Blackburn wrote about Extreme Home Makeover host Ty Pennington getting a slap on the wrist (or five, rather) from the FDA for his endorsement of Shire Pharmaceuticals Adderall XR in a YouTube video.

Even when we do follow the rules, we execute it to little effect. John Mack published a case study on his Pharma Marketing Blog to show an example of celebrity spokespeople for public awareness campaigns. Penlac, a toe nail fungus topical treatment, retained 10-time Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson to be the face of their product through 2004. Thompson, a medical student afflicted with toe nail fungus, promoted the brand through Satellite Media Tours, Video News Releases, and other appearances. My challenge to you is to find all the things that are wrong with this campaign. And sure, the story got picked up in some top markets, but is there really any proof that anyone watched it? I didnt read anything about the campaign raising Penlacs profile. I do, however, remember that the government berated pharmaceutical and healthcare-related VNRs not long after. Tsk, tsk.

The question remains: how can we effectively put a human face on our brands? Some Pharma marketers are doing away with celebrities altogether and focusing on real people with real stories. Im privy to this idea, if it werent for the fact that most of these “real stories are too somber or too touchy-feely. To an extent, tragedy works because its depressing, and that shot-through-the-heart feeling tends to linger for a while. The other major theme is empowerment, which is certainly useful in that its a call to action, but your message only reaches the patient and is less relevant to their circle of care.

I personally dont think we should give up on celebrity endorsements yet. Looks like John Mack became a fan of professional racecar driver Charlie Kimball after being introduced to him by Ambre Morley from Novo Nordisk, who works with Kimball in their Race With Insulin campaign. Heres what they talked about:

Charlie says the Tweets on both sites are written by him — using his iPhone — and are NOT edited by Novo as I had previously suggested. Charlie depends on his sponsorships to keep his career going, just like any other racecar driver. He wants to make sure he does a good job for Novo in representing the Levemir brand. Although Novo does not tell him what to Tweet nor does Novo edited his Tweets, Charlie has been briefed on how to word his Tweets whenever he mentions a Novo branded product. Every branded Tweet MUST be just one-click away from the PI because the Tweet exists on the Race with Insulin page that mentions the benefit.

If we revisit Lisa Barones post on the Old Spice campaign, well quickly notice that Novo Nordisk hit the first two touch points: facilitating real-time response and developing personal connections. The jury is still out on whether or not interacting with Charlie Kimball is actually fun (item #5 in Barones list), but it sure is interesting.

Its also worth noting that what eventually shot Isaiah Mustafa to superstardom wasnt his acting career or his stint in the NFL it was a few clever maneuvers by the folks at Weiden + Kennedy and a fictional identity. Whether you use a big name (like Nick Jonas for Bayers Contour USB Meter) or just a regular Joe, you have to shape the right personality someone loveable, possibly humorous, and representative of your brand. All day, Ive been tweeting about taking Pharma out of its comfort zone on the Pixels & Pills Twitter account. Like Old Spice, that might mean creating a new kind of language around your brand, a new environment, and giving it a new personality.

Now for some weekend homework. Answer the following questions: 1. What can Bayer do to up the ante on their “Nicks Simple Wins campaign? 2. If a Pharma marketer were to turn a regular person into an effective celebrity spokesperson, what kind of personality would the spokesperson have?

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2 Responses to Can Pharma Have an Old Spice Guy? Pharmas Problems With Personality

  1. Gary Ashwal says:

    Doing my homework early…

    1. Nick Jonas partners with many other medical brands (two of whom are our clients) to allow him image to be aligned with curing/fighting/managing diabetes. Maybe Bayer should get out in front of those disparate messages and unify them, so that every Nick=Diabetes effort becomes a Nick=Nick=Diabetes=Bayer impression.

    2. Judging form the Old Spice ads, I would say:

    A. Already have dedicated following (online hopefully). Maybe a “regular” person who just happens to have be a micro-celeb with a small, dedicated following…like a small town mayor, rising YouTube star, or something.

    B. Magnetic is more important than authentic. Mustafa is not being authentic but you want to watch/listen to him.

    C-Z. Comedy. Laughter is sharable. Finding the joke in medicine/pharma is hard and almost entirely off-limits. There is the one where they make fun of birth control cliches. And my Friday brain can’t think of any others…

  2. admin says:

    Thanks so much for your comments Gary – and detention for everyone else who commented via Twitter and didn’t submit their homework! Just kidding.

    I think a very important point that you raised here is that Bayer might want to consider unifying their message, but I would even push that a bit further. I think for this age group, the commercials and even the website are a bit stiff. Last Friday, Andrew Spong tweeted about a website called Shift.ms, which is a really great European network for young people with multiple sclerosis. Although it doesn’t involve any big names or celebrities, it’s a really fun, interactive space that attracts users to the site (I loved browsing the different sections) and encourages them to spend more time on it, submit content, etc. Now imagine a site like that for young people with diabetes with the heartthrob du jour behind it!

    Also, you’re absolutely right that the Pharma and healthcare industries are terrified of using comedy. But that’s because we’re always in the mindset that comedy needs to be offensive to be funny – and when it comes to the health of ourselves and our loved ones…well, we don’t even want to go there. But there are plenty of comedians who are simply clever without offending anyone. For instance, my favorite comedian is Demetri Martin, who uses wordplay and clever drawings on his show “Important Things.”

    All in all, we need to stop swimming in circles in the same puddle of mud and start exploring some fresh new waters 🙂