FOR YEARS, PHARMACEUTICAL companies abided by stringent guidelines when marketing products directly to consumers—even describing the condition a drug was designed to treat was cost-prohibitive. However, in August of 1997, the Food and Drug Administration revised the rules. It wasn’t long before an evening of television was not complete without families frolicking free of nasal allergies, thirty-somethings rediscovering life after depression and Bob Dole telling the world how his marriage was reinvigorated. Good news for the pharmaceutical companies, but not for the promotional companies previously responsible for most of the industry’s advertising, right?
Wrong. A decade later, the pharmaceutical industry continues to grow at an astounding pace, and promotional products still play a key role in its success. In fact, television advertising has strengthened pharmaceutical branding in general, allowing promotional products to make even more of an impact on consumers. In the past, a drug’s name on the side of a pen only served to remind the average consumer that it was taken from the doctor’s office. Now, it’s another opportunity for positive brand reinforcement.
“Television has made formerly private topics more public, so advertisers aren’t as shy about promoting their pharmaceuticals,” said Shelley Sake, director of sales and marketing at Evans Manufacturing, Garden Grove, Calif. And, the timing couldn’t be better for pharmaceutical companies and those in the promotions industry. Baby boomers are reaching the age when pharmaceuticals begin to play a fundamental role in their daily life. “There has been a definite increased interest in promotional products as the pharmaceutical companies want to continue to reach consumers and get reminders in their hands,” Sake added.
As the “boomers” age, more chances to market to them will open, but traditional techniques will have to be reexamined. Historically, items such as pill boxes and bandage dispensers were designed to favor the white, antiseptic feel generally associated with hospitals. Sake noted the “boomers,” as well as future generations, want attractive health care accessories in warm, vibrant colors.
Some of Evans Manufacturing’s best sellers include pill boxes, weekly medication reminders and bandage dispensers with sleek designs appealing to the fashionable, modern consumer. The company’s 7-Day Med Minders, for example, have rounded ends and are available in solid or translucent colors, featuring shades ranging from bright red to neon blue. There’s nothing boxy or old-fashioned about them, and that’s exactly what appeals to contemporary consumers.
Nevertheless, design isn’t the only factor that determines the success rate of a product. End-users want practicality as well. Sake observed products used for travel are gaining popularity. “Pill boxes aren’t only for window sills anymore. Many of the ‘baby boomers’ are on-the-go, and the products need to be designed to meet their needs,” she said.
Cindy Matalamaki, senior category manager for Apothecary Products, Burnsville, Minn., agreed. “Customers are looking for more on-the-go products, [such as] our line of keychain pill boxes,” she stated. Similar to Evans Manufacturing, pill boxes and medication reminders are among Apothecary Products’ best selling items. Not only are these products convenient for end-users, but they also promote proper medication intake—a concern among health care professionals. Matalamaki noted, “Ensuring patients take their medications as prescribed is a major issue.” As a result, the majority of patients will be exposed to the brand on a daily basis.
Health care professionals are also essential to the success of pharmaceuticals, and getting the products in their hands is a top priority for distributors. “Pill counting trays ensure the pharmaceutical brand is front-and-center for the pharmacist,” commented Matalamaki. This is a crucial opportunity for promotion, as pharmacists frequently choose whether patients receive the brand name version of a drug or a generic equivalent.
Pharmaceutical promotional products aren’t limited to pharmaceutical companies and health care facilities, however. Other markets are now capitalizing on this trend. “We are seeing a variety of businesses purchasing health care/pharmaceutical items, such as the education market, insurance companies, financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies,” said Sake.
As with all fields, advances in technology have affected pharmaceutical promotions. In some cases, technology has created an entirely new variety of promotional items. The increasingly ubiquitous USB drive, for instance, enables individuals to transport necessary medical information in case of an emergency.
Furthermore, technology has given traditional items a bit of a makeover. “Many of our innovative products leverage technology to lower production costs and create unique shapes and colors,” said Matalamaki. Such variety is essential to pharmaceutical promotions, where custom products are in far higher demand than in other fields. Sake remarked, “You can see a variety of products shaped like medication or even [like] the organ being treated.”
Such items are a strong visual reminder of the ailment, and help end-users to be more understanding of, and grateful for, the cure. Sake pointed out, “[Companies] want to convey a caring message to their clients.” Establishing an emotional connection with end-users just might cure ailing promotions.