With iPad push, Merck gets global right

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Merck came late to the iPad party.

“We didn't come out fast with it like some others, but we really looked at it,” said Merck global creative director Marty Kovach, speaking at last week's MM&M Skill Sets Live event. “The time the rep has with the physician keeps getting shorter and shorter. Often it's spent standing, sometimes walking down the hall. We needed to think about a design approach that would empower our reps.”

With tablets, Kovach continued, “we put everything but the kitchen sink into them, and for the reps, it was very difficult to go from one brand to another.” In the iPad, the company found an excellent storytelling device, but one which required purpose-built attention.

“At first, we said we could just extend our print work or web approach, but we found it's its own medium.”

Much like Pfizer did with its mobile-optimized consumer sites, Kovach's team, working together with agency Juice Pharma, set out to build a universal platform that would let reps move fluidly between brands across languages while factoring in differences in signal (WiFi vs. cellular) and resolution (some markets have retinal screen-equipped iPads, others don't), among other things.

Merck employed a variation on the Pareto Principle, aiming for a format that worked for 80% of the world but that “could be easily updated and localized,” said Kovach, noting that unpredictable glitches are wont to pop up every time Apple releases a new IOS update. In one early prototype for the vaccines franchise, that meant a sudden plague of memory issues and an unasked-for font change requiring reragging and, in the stuff of MLR nightmares, pushing safety info off the page.

“Because of our early learnings, we wanted to create a global approach where if you knew how to navigate one brand, you could navigate all brands,” said Kovach, “a really sophisticated design grid. It would have been really easy to create a cookie cutter approach, but we needed to balance that with a design system that made every brand feel like a Merck/MSD experience.”

To increase comprehension of their content, Merck measured the distance from the device to viewers' eyes, tweaked font sizes and color density to compensate for older retinas taking in less light. They spent a lot of time on interactive infographics. The result?

“I've been getting iPad presentations from around the globe,” said Kovach, “and I can open them up and navigate through them even if I don't speak the language. “As we put out those standards and people played within the rules, we actually found that the creative was more creative and the content was dead on,” said Kovach. “Reps were now able to think about the content and not how to navigate it.”

There's been far more talk than action about unified global marketing plans over the past decade—in large measure because of pushback from local market execs and agencies loathe to surrender creative control to a distant home office. Merck went about getting buy-in for its global template deliberately, canvassing their agency partners and getting their input to ensure they'd be onboard with it.

“All they want is unbridled creativity,” Kovach said, “and as a creative, I totally get that.”

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