Private View: Communicating with contrasts

Greg Kirsch
Greg Kirsch

At precisely 6:00 p.m., the heating/cooling function in our office building turns off. One minute I'm working away, engrossed with the task at hand; the next… I'm aware of my surroundings. It is eerily quiet. I can hear a pin drop. I wonder who is still here.

Humans notice contrasts. Differences—visual, auditory or sensual—let our brains make quick decisions. Why is this important? Survival. Blame evolution. For our primitive ancestors, being alert to a change in sound could be the difference between going home to the cave and being a saber-toothed tiger's entrée!

Couple that fact with this: an overwhelming body of research demonstrates that hardwired instincts, like noticing contrasts, play the primary role in all decisions we make. Whether we admit it or not, we make decisions based on emotion and gut feel. Then, we rationalize the decision.

The implications for medical marketing are clear. If we can stimulate gut instincts—with contrasts like before/after, risky/safe, with/without—we will be more effective.

Copywriters have used contrasting pairs for years. From the advertising classics:

• Target: Expect more. Pay less.

• Hershey's: Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don't.

• Clairol: Does she or doesn't she?

Check out how these pharma ads effectively employ the technique:


Champix (the European version of Chantix) presents a stark healthy/unhealthy contrast in this professional ad. Makes me want to quit, and I don't even smoke!

Lyrica contrasts the “hell” of neuropathic pain with the “heaven” of freedom from pain in this ad from Australia.


Pradaxa's image and copy work together to imply without is risky, but with is safe.  As reported by this magazine, physicians voted this ad one of the most effective journal ads.

Medifast uses a powerful before/after visual contrast. The copy makes it stronger with a new/old contrast.

Pristiq, a DTC example…less blatant but still clear. With Pristiq, you're alive, well and active. Without, you “feel like you need to wind yourself up.”


Lipitor's TV ad contrasts the risky behavior of before (youth) with the safe behavior of now (maturity). The man says, “I've raced down that hill without a helmet. I took some steep risks in my teens. I never ride without one now.”

Some legal, medical and regulatory reviewers may raise a red flag at contrasts that appear to overpromise or imply a fallacious claim, but that shouldn't scare creative teams. Finding the right balance is the key.

Contrasts. A proven attention-getter. Developing medical marketing messages using contrasts can maximize your effectiveness while minimizing your effort.

Greg Kirsch is S.V.P. Creative Services, Intouch Solutions

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