Getting Your Big Ideas to Work in Pharma Advertising

Mark Schnurman, founding partner, Filament
Mark Schnurman, founding partner, Filament

Many of us start in advertising dreaming of creating innovative, creative, risky work. So, why aren't there more great, edgy concepts in the world of healthcare advertising today?  Why do clients so often kill risky or innovative ideas?  How come the consumer agencies get away with convincing Kmart to tout “I just shipped my pants”on national television?

 

It is no secret that many clients are risk averse, particularly when it comes to creative. Creative and its subsequent tactical executions represent an enormous percentage of a client's annual marketing budget, and the client has a great deal riding on that creative's success or failure, so even the slightest risk may be just too much for them to accept.  That doesn't mean all is lost! So how did “ship my pants” make it onto television?  A point worth noting is that it wasn't born on television. That spot was introduced on YouTube while Kmart continued to run the conservative, uninspired, client-driven, “what's on sale now”-type work for which they are more traditionally known.


Only after  “ship my pants” became a viral phenomenon did that work make it's way onto television. That means that a very smart agency person stopped trying to sell their edgy work as a TV spot.  They stopped trying to make the risky stuff the core concept that might represent over 50% of the client's budget and instead tried to sell it in as a tactic, a low-budget pilot for YouTube that probably represented less than 3-5% of that budget. The next thing you know, the work is all over the internet creating huge buzz for the brand and the client-driven, low-risk TV spots are quickly replaced by the much more edgy “ship my pants.”   

 

Work in the same vein has followed including:

Big Gas Savings 

Show Your Joe 

Even the boring layaway spot got a humorous twist with Yo Mama

 

The agency found a way to let the idea live to fight another day. They turned it into a tactic and basically went in the back door instead of trying to break down the front door. While it takes patience, both the creative director and the brand manager got what they wanted. Great work that makes great noise for the brand.

 

I recognize that “ship my pants” is probably more edgy that we can get in pharma. But are there other ways that we can get the bigger ideas into our work? With more media available to us, there are more opportunities to try new ideas in relatively low-risk settings.  Next time you are met with a “no” try to find a backdoor through which you can let your risky idea see the light of day.

 

Mark Schnurman is founding partner of Filament, a communications training company working with both pharma and consumer ad agencies.