It’s All In How You Frame It

By September 30, 2008Uncategorized

Before you even begin marketing, you first need to think about how you're going to frame what you're doing. Given the perfect storm of regulation that seems to be hitting, with Federal regulation on DTC pharma marketing tightening up, and pharma sales beginning to decline, it is seeming to make sense that pharma companies should begin by framing themselves as partners in a relationship from the beginnning. This very important point was made by Guy Kawasaki a couple of days ago in his blog, in a post entitled Frame or Be Framed.

Kawasaki writes about the current political landscape, and dissects how the Republican Party is framing itself with respect to the current financial crisis. In an interview, George Lakoff, a Berkeley linguist and expert on framing we've written about previously, describes the current situation as follows:

Language always comes with what is called “framing.” Every word is
defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like
“revolt,” that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or
assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off
their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That’s a frame.

If you then add the word “voter” in front of “revolt,” you get a
metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people,
the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and
this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up
when you see a headline like “voter revolt”—something that most people
read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters
and very often, by the campaign people themselves

This is a point that a lot of pharma companies might be well-advised to keep in mind in their marketing. Most DTC advertising frames the patient and the sufferer, and the drug, or drug company, as the outsider who comes in to make things better. The classic example that springs to mind is the glowing Lunesta moth that literally flies into the patient's room at night, settles down on him, and eases him to sleep. Literally, all the patient does is lie there. The patient is not depicted as playing any active role in the situation at all. It might make a whole lot more sense for these companies to depitct themselves as long-term partners rather than outside solutions.

Some health-related companies, such as Kaiser Permanente, already have adopted this tactic. Kaiser has a long-running radio campaign featuring Alison Janney, formerly of the television series West Wing, taking about the day-to-day role things like eating right and exercising play in long-term good health. In these spots, Kaiser is positioned as the patient's partner, working together with the patient over the long haul to help them be as healthy as possible.

If you are marketing a drug that's intended to be used by patients with long-term, chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, you are, in effect, the patient's long-term partner. Over the months and years to come, the patient is going to help himself stay healthy by taking the drug, and making whatever lifestyle modifications are necessary to stay healthy and strong. All the different elements of the program work together, and the drug company should depict itself in that context. And it should do this right from the start. From the instant the patient picks up the first piece of literature, or visits the website for the first time, the words, images and concepts these marketing vehicles convey must consistently communicate the concept that the patient and the pharma company are working together, and that they will continue to do so for a long time to come.