Preaching to the converted

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As a geography major—yes, geography—I have to confess to having fond memories of presentations on demographics and socio-economic trends. So it was with great anticipation that I attended a talk by population expert Ken Dychtwald on the ageing baby boomers at last month's Pharmaceutical Brand Leadership Conference in Chicago.

One hour later, however, I couldn't help thinking that this is the guy who should be leading the charge and telling pharma's story to the world. After all, I don't think I've ever heard a more compelling version.

We all know the baby boomers are aging, but Dychtwald cooked up a perfect storm of statistics, visuals, emphasis and drama to convey the magnitude of this demographic shift, and the opportunity for the industry. Example: “Two-thirds of the people in the history of the world who have ever lived past 65 are alive today.” You cannot argue with the might of that statement.
“What you're going to see is an enormous pandemic of a spectrum of conditions which, on one hand, is troubling,” he said. “But if you're in the industry you're in…Well, it doesn't get any better than this.”

Dychtwald described this age wave as “a 78-million-pound elephant” which moves forward, getting one year older every year. “The way most marketers have approached this elephant is they wait for it to pass and then they try to shoot arrows at its butt,” he said. “But if you want to hit the jackpot, get out in front and dig a deep hole.”

Dychtwald then called on pharma to save the world from dementia.

“If you ask the public what's their biggest fear about diseases in the future, they'll say cancer,” he said. “But it's Alzheimer's.” He spelled out how today's four million Alzheimer's sufferers in the US will balloon with the age wave, and that an estimated 15 million boomers will have dementia for 10-20 years.

“This will be the sinkhole into which the 21st century falls,” he declared. “Unless your industry has the breakthroughs to save the future.”

And having made attendees paranoid about the enormity of this population shift—or rather, who is going to pay for all that medicine—Dychtwald closed the feel-good loop with some wonderfully delivered comments about the industry, casting his family as central characters.”
“I would not be able to talk to my dad if it were not for the diabetes medications he's been taking for 25 years,” he said. “He would be dead. He would not know my son if it were not for your industry.”

Dychtwald declared that he himself takes medicines for high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
It's conceivable, said Dychtwald, that the new real future will be what we are seeing 60-, 80- and 100-year-olds doing. “And frankly, your industry is largely responsible.”

To sign off, Dychtwald defended pharma's consumer marketing efforts to the hilt. “If you were to ask me—and I've been asked by the media continually—what sector does the best job of communicating with 50- and 60-year-olds, there's no question: it's pharmaceuticals. You guys have gotten very good over the years.”

While the smattering of delegates at the end of Navy Pier already knew the story, what Dychtwald offered was a hugely effective “template” on spreading the good word of pharma with humor, authority, compassion and—most important—impact. The essential ingredient is to tell a true story. I understand the industry has an endless supply of those.

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