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How easy is it to be truly creative in pharmaceutical marketing?

Can you really express your creativity in an industry so regulated and structured? It can be easy to become overwhelmed with restrictions on everything from colour and fonts to the size and spacing of lettering…

Of course, it all depends on what you are marketing. OTC and prescription drug regulations differ drastically and require a completely different approach.

There is ample evidence from consumer advertising that creatively awarded brands perform better than brands that don’t win awards. The most effective campaigns are based on powerful, emotion-based brand reminders, and these trends are filtering through to pharma.

Some people seem unconvinced about the link between creativity and effectiveness. While many big brands do very well despite ‘uninspired’ campaigns, what could we achieve if we married the best clinical performance with the best creative ideas?

Creativity means taking risks, and Big Pharma is, by its nature, risk-averse.

In some cases, it is not just the agency that struggles with the restrictions; it is felt by everyone involved;  “I’d love to do a more creative campaign but my hands are tied by Global.” – UK National Manager, top five pharma company.

And of course, when it comes to pharmaceutical marketing, you cannot ignore the rules and regulations…“What works for washing powder doesn’t work for a monoclonal antibody. Doctors make decisions based on facts, not gimmicks.” – International Brand Manager.


To kick off the creative campaign process in pharma, the client often asks for “something outside of the box, something new and exciting” or “something we’ve never seen before”. We should always take these requests seriously, but by delivery of the piece, how often has it remained a “new and exciting idea”?

The creative team often goes off, brainstorming and getting excited over the new product or brand that they can really get their teeth into, with a client willing to do something differently in such a tightly regulated environment. Often, the brief is written, and with the client in agreement, the creative team have come up with ideas and sketches…before revealing them to the client.

The reaction is usually always the same…uncomfortable. Round after round of amendments and comments from medical and legal professionals, things have been changed to keep within the codes of practice; the ideas have been reduced to 5, with 1 or 2 good ones left. The struggle of trying to be innovative whilst pleasing medics and legal.


This is where the idea of “something they’ve never seen before” dies. HCPs don’t like change or humour regarding pharma…so the 1 or 2 good ideas that were left say goodbye. One month later, the final idea is finished, an idea that everyone can ‘live with’; it’s not too over the top and certainly not something they haven’t seen before, but it is definitely within the guidelines.

Let’s not focus too much on the gloom; could all of this be seen as a benefit? Pharmaceutical marketing is becoming more focused on providing information and improving lives rather than just promoting medications. We must try to tread the middle ground, always pushing the limits of creativity while being mindful of the restrictions that come with working within Pharma.

Perhaps the fact that we are working in pharma marketing has so many obstacles to overcome while still pushing to provide effective marketing solutions in its very nature means we are ever more creative than those who have the freedom to do as they, please.