S&R Blog


Which industry’s ads are most trusted by Americans?
February 8, 2010, 7:49 pm
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If you answered pharma, then you’re right when compared only to the financial industry. But according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive and AdweekMedia, when compared to the soft drink, fast food, and auto industries, pharmaceuticals ads come in as least trustworthy by Americans.

Of the five industries about which the poll inquired, soft drinks had the highest “most trustworthy” vote (34 percent) and the lowest “least trustworthy” score (4 percent). Fast food was the runner-up in both respects (22 percent “most trustworthy,” 10 percent “least trustworthy”).

Each of the polls’ other three ad categories had more negative than positive votes. Pharmaceuticals was ranked “most trustworthy” by 18 percent and “least trustworthy” by 29 percent. The automotive industry fared a bit better, at 14 percent “most trustworthy” and 19 percent “least trustworthy.” Financial services did worst of all, at 13 percent “most trustworthy” and 38 percent “least trustworthy.”

Want to weigh in on the conversation? Check out the full article here at Adweek.

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Creative Medical Advertising—Who’s the Oxymoron?

Okay, I have a confession to make. Two, actually. The first is that, in the spirit of recycling, this post is an adaptation of an article I wrote for Talent Zoo late last year. The second is that despite having been a copywriter for fifteen years and a creative director for ten more—running my own eponymous and award-winning agency for five of those years and for the rest working at some pretty well-regarded agencies (by my industry’s standard, at least) in five countries—some ad types reading this might say that I’ve never quite fully managed to actually get into advertising, really.

You see, the fact is that those twenty-five years were spent in medical advertising. And not in the making of those boomer-disorder TV spots that everyone loves to hate—there’s still some fame (or infamy) in that. No, they’ve been spent devising the printed sales aids and journal ads and patient education leaflets through which the pharma industry seeks to persuade your physician to prescribe its products as the cure for what ails you, at any given time.

Now, while medical advertising used to be a fabulous generator of income (days long gone, by the way), it has never been regarded by the ad industry as a generator of high-profile creative executions.

Notice I say executions and not ideas; I firmly believe that this arm of the business has been as fecund and fruitful a hothouse of great communication ideas as any other—just too often obscured by graphs and tables and complicated words in the headline. Nowadays, though, I’m no longer as sure of that as I used to be. Frankly, we’ve had the stuffing regulated out of us. Especially those of us who’ve been at it for a while.

It used to be that medical creatives could feel good about themselves, amongst themselves.

We had our own award shows that sorted the wheat from the chaff, and we could look smugly down our noses at simpletons selling soap powder and sugar water, knowing that we were helping to keep the smartest folks around properly informed about up-to-date ways of treating cancer, cardiac disease, and chronic whatever. We felt like the intelligentsia of advertising and our victories were accomplished through the crafting of ideas; through metaphor, storyline, and okay, admittedly, sometimes even hyperbole. Never mind that our more glamorous industry-mates might think we were dorks. We knew a good idea when we sold one. Masters of nuance, we could weave sophisticated arguments from raw clinical data and infer advantage despite a product presenting a Package Insert (upon which all claims must be based) of mind-numbing parity with its competitors. Well, we’ve had that bashed out of us and then some.

The very idea of an “idea” is now anathema to the FDA, and many big pharma companies have outsourced risk assessment to ex-FDA consultants whose job it is to say “no” to everything and strip value from their client’s communication efforts.

And get paid handsomely for doing so! Ironically, and luckily for the pharma industry, this comes at a time when the medical advertising creative workforce has never been so well trained, contextually experienced, adept at its craft, and simply dying to do something special.

As usual, it’s the young ‘uns that are leading the charge. A client once told me that there would come a time that “one’s experience counts against one.” I’ve been battling with that for a while, tilting at the abovementioned windmills, but I think I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, or some other reassuring cliché. Heretical as it may seem, I’m starting to believe that everything old is new again. After all, if all the creatives and all the customers and all the clients are thirty-something or younger (at least, those with any sort of authority), then all the archetypes are up for grabs. If the medium is the message, then the message is new.

YouTube and URLs wash away the sins of the past. Everything’s a mashup, fresh, immediate, and potent as ever. Sample Aesop’s fables in Flash and voila, you’re golden. And why not? After all, our genes are millions of years in the making. Originality? Oh, please. As long as it sells, baby. As long as the client is happy and it sells. And who’s to say that each time an idea is revisited in this way it isn’t executed with more refinement and, conceptually speaking, more appropriately applied? I think that this is very often the case.

If my confession sounds disgraceful, let me offer this up in my defense: I have the privilege of presiding over a tremendously talented creative department full of enthusiastic, fresh-faced young copywriters and art directors who never fail to amaze me by the brilliance and breadth of ideas they put up on the wall for every assignment. Often, the most apt of these involves a metaphor, and occasionally I have seen similar ideas before, maybe twenty years before. But I’m sure I only thought they were original then because I was too young to know any better.

I think it was T.S. Elliot who said that everything’s been done, it’s only the combinations that change, (someone else probably said it before him, right?) and the older I get the more I concur. Change the combination, change the medium, change the culture even, and you change everything. I increasingly find that those metaphors steeped in cultural relevance, those “old” ideas, are the ones the clients like the most, that undeniably float to the top in market research and that the physicians relate to best. Faced with success like that, me casting aspersions on their vintage can seem like sour grapes. It can suck enthusiasm from the building. I’m really trying to stop doing that. So, if the current regulatory climate precludes developing narratives of cutting-edge novelty, we always have the classics, and thank goodness. I’ll settle for sales, and keep my ego out of it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say.

-Bruce Nicoll



TV is alive and kicking

According to a recent study covered in last week’s New York Times, even though people have the opportunity to watch video on their computers and cellphones, TV accounted for 99 percent of all video consumed in 2008. That’s a phenomenal statistic given the fact that the saturation of cross-platform media is at an all-time high.

The study, conducted by Ball State’s University’s Center for Media Design for The Council for Research Excellence, is the largest observational look at media usage ever conducted. TV was reported as the dominant medium with computer usage supplanting radio as the second most common medium. Some key findings from the study concluded:

  • Americans were exposed to more than 5 hours of live TV a day vs 2.4 minutes via the computer
  • 18-to-24 year-olds watch the smallest amount of live TV of any age group
  • The 25 to 34 age group watch DVD or DVR videos more than any other group
  • People ages 35 to 44 spend more time on the web than any other group (74 minutes a day)
  • 45-to-54 year-olds spend the most time on email when compared with other age groups
  • People over the age of 65 watch the most live TV
  • 30% of households own DVRs and have the ability to fast-forward through advertisements

The full story can be found here.



3 things you need to know to reach the integrated consumer

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that consumers are adopting new technology at a rapid pace. But a recent IBM Media Study released last week shows the result of this early adoption is a new consumer group that can only be reached on specific terms.

The study, titled “Beyond Advertising: Choosing a Strategic Path to the Digital Consumer”,  surveyed 2,800 consumers across six countries. The study also contained interviews advertising industry professionals. Three takeaways that every brand should think about before solidifying a communication plan are:

1. The assumption that consumers will be a captive audience is over. Their rapid adoption of new media allow them to be readers, editors, and marketers at the same time.

2. Despite privacy issues, consumers are willing to provide details about themselves, their lifestyles or content preferences in exchange for a perceived value (free content, etc.).

3. Consumers are yearning for integrated messaging or truly cross-platform solutions that seamlessly integrate television, print, online, and mobile technology.

You can read the rest of the study here (via Fuel Lines).