The creative treatment

Pharmaceutical brands need to appeal more directly to consumers, as people increasingly take responsibility for their own health, says Richard Clayton

Working in the pharmaceuticals sector can be a major headache for designers. The sector is fraught with exacting regulations, bureaucratic clients, powerful professional interests, own-label competition and tortuously long lead times. Quite a handful clearly, but several factors are making branding and packaging increasingly important for pharmaceutical giants.

Consumers are becoming more familiar with self-medication. Many people are actively taking greater responsibility for their own health, encouraged by a Government keen to reduce NHS costs. On-line and cross-border purchasing is putting downward pressure on prices. Most of all, drug companies want to extend the life of products after their patents run out.

Enterprise IG’s work for GlaxoSmithKline’s Eumovate dermatology range is a case in point. Having created the Eumovate identity for the initial pharmacy brand, the group has just designed the spin-off line extension Eumobase (DW 27 March).

Not only is this ‘franchise’ an example of a drug ‘switching’ from prescription-only availability to over-the-counter, it is also going a step further – on to the General Sales List and into retail areas where consumers can select products themselves.

And with a growing number of GSL brands appearing in supermarkets, convenience stores and even garage forecourts, a paradigm shift in marketing attitudes is underway.

Brands making this transition need to work harder at communicating ‘real benefits’ not merely product features, explains Beverley Law, Enterprise IG head of pharmaceutical and healthcare branding.

‘Brands should be more compelling, taking the science and making it more meaningful to consumers: Eumovate is saying “skin flare-up” instead of eczema and dermatitis.’

The appropriate balance between medicinal and emotional messages depends entirely on the product and the brief, says Creative Leap director Trevor Bradford. Brand architecture and retail fixturing are only scratching the surface.

‘We must switch from a patient to a consumer-oriented mindset, [helping] consumers navigate the category with confidence,’ he says. ‘Since OTCs have parity of performance, the perceived efficacy of the product has as much do with the branding and communication working together as it has with the drug itself.’

Dew Gibbons joint creative director Steve Gibbons agrees that the sector is only beginning to adopt ‘classic branding techniques’. But while creating an emotional link is paramount, he says clarity about how a product should be used is vital.

‘You need to be clear in the communication about what this product is for and whom it is for, with no blurring,’ he explains.

Designers with an OTC brief should be mindful of the following consumer concerns, Law maintains. ‘Do I have this problem and will this treat it? Does this brand understand me? Do I believe in this brand and will I request it?’ In creative terms, these questions translate as ‘are we educating? Are we creating empathy? Are we creating empowerment?,’ she says.

Working within a regulatory framework is a further consideration for designers in the sector. The Department of Health issued best practice guidance on medical labelling and packaging last month. This week, a new quango – the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, formed from the merger of the Medicines Control Agency and the Medical Devices Agency – takes over the policing of the issues. While EU law makes mandatory requirements, these rules are no excuse for unimaginative design, says Law.

Some member states add their own provisos, Gibbons says, like Scandinavian countries and Spain banning graphics of body parts. But with many projects on a pan-European or global footing, this simply raises the creative stakes. Product literature accompanying most medicines is a prime target for a user-friendly makeover, Gibbons suggests.

Simplicity of shelf stand-out and easy-to-digest compliance information are obvious ‘hygiene factors’ for design when consumers are choosing from a wide range of brands and expert input is likely to be limited to the pharmacy assistant at the point-of-sale, if that.

Pack functionality, provided it delivers all the basics first, is already regarded as a means to differentiate. So, if pharmaceutical products are the ultimate ‘trust brands’, how soon before they become lifestyle brands?

‘The healthcare business needs to build brands, period,’ says Law. ‘The big crossover is on [so-called] cosmoceuticals.’ She cites Botox as an example.

Bradford adds, ‘If you find a remedy that’s right for you, you tend to stay with it. Because it takes a lot for consumers to change allegiance, medicines are definitely lifestyle brands.’

Although there will always be an ethical framework, the future for OTC brands seems not so much Holby City as Sex and the City.

Regulatory overview

• Prescription-only medicines cannot be promoted to consumers; over-the-counter products can

• EU pack design and labelling legislation focuses mainly on product information and textual/typographic issues

• The Department of Health recommends users gain ‘rapid access’ on pack to the name of the medicine, its strength, administration method, product dose and side effect warnings

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