Few industries harness quite as much knowledge as the pharmaceutical industry. The industry teeters on the line of being both wholly fundamental to the continuance of our species, and too complex to be understood by the common citizen. With such a barrier between the public itself and comprehension of the finer details behind the industry’s work, the relationship between the two is of the utmost importance to maintain. A lack of understanding could result in misconceptions, which would impact both the industry’s sales and the consumer’s knowledge of how best to take care of themselves.
It’s for this reason and more that no pharmaceutical company should neglect how they are perceived by the public. As is the case with any industry, brand awareness needs to be balanced with good PR in order to be successful. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the good and some of the bad of brand awareness, and just how important it really is to the pharmaceutical industry.
What exactly is the pharmaceutical industry?
Pharmaceutical companies are commercial entities that make, develop, research, discover, and even market drugs for public consumption. The current form of the industry can be characterised as a series of titanic corporations upon whom much of the world is deeply reliant, but this wasn’t always the case. In the mid-19th century, medical dispensers were referred to as apothecaries and produced wholesale quantities of drugs like morphine and quinine. (1)(2)
Having grown from humble servers of the community to the corporate giants that they are today, pharma companies are subjected to huge amounts of legislation and quality assurances. This is due to the degree of public dependence, the stature of these companies, and numerous controversies—not to mention the need for accuracy and safety in their products.
Is brand awareness important in pharmaceuticals?
Brand awareness, and by extension advertising, are important for any industry, but for pharma-based healthcare marketing experts, it’s a little bit more complex than simply building exposure. While the pharma industry, in many ways, has developed into a series of corporate conglomerates, it is set apart from many retail industries by the fact that the importance of pharmaceuticals is determined by a consumer need rather than want.
Awareness via advertising has indeed been beneficial for pharmaceutical companies; one such example is that of Panadol. Panadol has become so ubiquitous that it is known by the majority of people and found in most households—otherwise known as a household name. Panadol is so widely known that its name is often used to refer to all manner of pain relief medication in tablet form, taking precedence over competitor’s names. It joins the likes of Kleenex, Coca-Cola, and Sellotape who have likewise seized the key terminology in their respective fields. (3)
Evidently, advertising, clinic networks, and brand exposure are all key to corporate success in the pharmaceutical world. As previously stated, the pharmaceutical industry has a harder job than most to win the hearts and minds of consumers. This is due to many factors—not least that people are justifiably wary about products they’re putting into their bodies. Studies even suggest that the country of origin plays a big part in consumer preferences. With these factors in mind and from a commercial standpoint, brand awareness is of great importance so long as that awareness is conducive to consumer confidence. (4)
How does PR contribute to brand awareness?
Public Relations (PR) is the strategic management of information between the public and a corporate, governmental, or personal entity. Well-managed and persistent PR is essential for any industry, but especially those whose business is predicated on the wellbeing of the general public. There are certain steps that pharma companies can take to manage their reputations successfully, which will build upon your brand awareness in a positive way.
“Corporate social responsibility” is a term of amusement to the world of auditing and compliance. Suggesting that companies be arbiters of their own duty of care in corporate contexts where profit is the end goal is a concept that raises many eyebrows. Brand exposure is therefore a double-edged sword as increased exposure leads to a larger audience, but that exposure leads to a higher degree of scrutiny. (5)
Despite this, fusing good PR with brand awareness is still possible, and can be managed using the tips below:
- Understand your customer’s wants and needs
- Earn public trust
- Demonstrate your standards and commitment to safety
- Make friends with the media by donating
- Remember that as a pharma company your objective is always to help people
Case study of unwanted brand awareness: Martin Shkreli
By no means is brand awareness objectively good. One of the greatest examples of this is “Pharma Bro”, Martin Shkreli. The former hedge fund manager rose to prominence in 2015 when his Pharma company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, acquired the manufacturing licence for Daraprim, an antiparasitic, anti-malarial, and AIDS-related treatment drug. After acquiring it, he rose the price from $13.50 to $750 a pill, a whopping 56 times its previous price.
As a result of the ordeal, Martin Shkreli was labelled “the most hated man in the world” and was denounced by major pharma companies everywhere. In defence of his actions, Shkreli claimed that they were a publicity stunt to demonstrate how flawed the pharma laws were. Shkreli was later sentenced to 7 years in prison on unrelated fraud charges, which also lead to his resignation at Turing.
With the pharma industry now keen to keep as much distance as possible from both him and his previous ventures, Shkreli stands as a textbook case of how the combination of negative exposure and brand awareness can be disastrous. A degree of corporate decency should be maintained to prevent brand exposure from becoming notoriety.
As is true for many sectors, brand awareness is important for success in the pharmaceutical industry. However, unlike many industries, pharma companies have a higher duty of care to their customers.
As we can see in the case of Panadol and other staple brands, brand awareness may encourage a higher degree of trust. The more well-known a brand becomes, the more likely people will be to associate it with a stronger and possibly safer reputation.
So long as the industry manages to uphold its principles of helping rather than exploiting the public, then, in theory, there should be reciprocated reputational benefits. The tale of Martin Shkreli should pose a warning to any in the pharma industry who may be tempted by unscrupulous behaviour.
- “Pharmaceuticals, General Survey”, Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/14356007.a19_273.pub2
- “Are You Asking Too Much From Your Filler?”, Source: https://www.pharmaceuticalonline.com/doc/are-you-asking-too-much-from-your-filler-0001
- “Household name”, Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/household%20name
- “Brand Name and Country of Origin Effects in the Emerging Market Economies of Russia, Poland and Hungary”, Source: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/02651339310050057/full/html
- “Corporate social responsibility – a PR invention?”, Source: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/13563280110381170/full/html