Thursday, April 19, 2012

2 concerts and a plate of bones.

Whether it was poor timing or some inner party animal instinct, I managed to lock myself into two consecutive nights of concerts.

Both bands would feature loud guitars, a healthy dose of ‘80s-style synthesizers, pulsing bass lines, and did I mention loud guitars? Yet, they’re different.

One band is relatively new - the mean age of their members was about 26. The other, a band that’s been around for about 30 years, whose members are geezers and could technically be the fathers of the kids in the first band. These bands are quite unalike, yet each has qualified as ‘kickass’ in my opinion.

Without prejudice.

We had spare tickets to these shows and offered them to friends. No takers.

“I don’t know these bands, but I don’t think I’m gonna like ‘em,” was the typical response. This, was without hearing a single note from either band.

Much prejudice, it seems.

When I asked a colleague if he wanted to see one of these bands, he promptly googled them and told me, “I see that they’re classified in Wikipedia as a shoegaze band. What on Earth is shoegaze?!” Then he didn’t think he was going to like them. His reasoning made my head explode. “I think they’re before my time, before I was born.” I’m pretty sure people shouldn’t be benchmarking new music on the basis of their birth date.

You see, I have a voracious appetite for new experiences – not just music – and I believe that every one should be constantly on the look out for new and different things.

For example, lately I’ve taken to the idea of nose-to-tail eating, which means I’ve been going out of my way to try every type of offal I can find. Heck, before last night’s concert, I pigged out on roasted bone marrow with ramps.

I knew I liked bone marrow, but I had no idea what a ramp was, so I ordered it. (It’s a wild spring onion and you can see the little bulbs embedded right into the marrow).

(My mouth is watering just looking at that picture)

We all need to go out and try everything weird. If not weird, something that makes you a tad uneasy, and takes you out of your comfort zone.

So what’s the point of all this, then?

Run towards ideas that are unfamiliar or different from what you currently believe or understand. Have a voracious hunger for new ideas.

Despite its original context in the film Wall Street, Gordon Gekko’s seminal speech has a universal truth to it:

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Greed is very good for marketing, in the sense of the pursuit of ideas and creativity. Eat up everything around you – in pop culture, in automotive design, in furniture aesthetics, in product packaging, in films, I gastronomy–all of it.

I believe that so many solutions for pharma marketing lie outside pharma marketing. And the only way we’re ever going to find them is when we start paying attention to things about which we have no idea.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Please Welcome Our Latest extrovert to the NY Office.

As part of extrovertic’s recent rebranding brainstorming, each of us was asked to “bring in something that you feel represents extrovertic.”

I brought in a bulb.

But not just any bulb—an amaryllis bulb.

You’re probably wondering, “What does an amaryllis bulb have to do with extrovertic?"

A bunch of reasons come to mind:

        ·      It blooms big, with multiple flowers

        ·      It’s determined. An amaryllis is one of the easiest flowers to grow. The bulb of this one couldn’t even wait to get to work. It’d already started to sprout before we put it in soil and watered it

        ·      It’s unstoppable. An amaryllis can keep on growing and blooming for years with minimal care. This is the second time this one’s bloomed. I just trimmed off the wilting stalk and it grew another stalk that then flowered

        ·      It’s popular. Because it’s so easygoing and cooperative, there’s a worldwide demand for them

        ·      It’s diverse. They flower in different colors (red, white, pink, salmon, and orange) as well as with different stripes

The way I see it, we at extrovertic operate the same way. It’s who we are. What we do. And how we work. Is it genetic? The environment? I don’t know. I’ll leave that to the Watson and Cricks of the world to unearth.

But I leave you, kind reader, with a perennial question: Why not grow your brand with extrovertic?


Thursday, April 5, 2012

This Skittles Commercial Is the Spinal Tap of DTC

The 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud showcased 3 highly influential guitar players of the modern-rock era: Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge. It’s a brilliant film. You really should watch it if you haven’t yet.

One glaring moment was when The Edge recounted the time he watched This Is Spinal Tap. He said, “Spinal Tap….That's a movie that I watched. I didn't laugh, I wept.”

Those weren’t “I laughed so hard I cried” tears. Those were tears of shame. Not because The Edge had himself been guilty of the same big-haired, cheese-rock, melodramatic antics that Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls got up to. It was because the parody was so spot on that it was hard not to take personally.

And that’s how I felt when I watched this brand‑new Skittles® commercial from Canada.

DTC TV spots are certainly not new fodder for parody. Saturday Night Live has been taking jabs at the category for ages. But having the likes of SNL poke fun at DTC was a little like an outsider looking in and laughing at us. It’s a whole different ball of wax to have our marketing brethren do so. That’s an inside job, a more personal jab. (And it seems to be a common trend—here’s another pharma spoof for Stoogesta, courtesy of the upcoming Three Stooges movie.)

Just as The Edge was chagrined by the over-the-top parody of rock‘n’roll in Spinal Tap, I was gutted when I saw that Skittles commercial. It cut a bit too close to home. Look at every cut in that spot—you’ve seen them all before. Every smile, promise, motion, on-screen effect—all of it. You’ve been seeing them for close to 20 years now.

So how did we get here? Have we squandered the last 15 years creating a monolithic category of pharmaceutical advertising that can be summarily goofed on in 60 seconds by a candy company? You know the answer to that question: yes.

I have worked in DTC marketing for almost 10 years now. And I want to continue to do so for the foreseeable future (at least as long as the FDA allows us to communicate directly to consumers to keep them better informed). But I also want to stay in DTC because I never want to make a “typical DTC commercial.”

Take another look at that Skittles ad. Soak in the horror of such creative mediocrity. Do our consumers really want to see creative like that? As marketers, are we truly satisfied that that sort of work is what we’re churning out day after day, month after month, year after year? Watch that spot again and let it drive you to create something better, more meaningful, that matters. We CAN do better. We CAN create fascinating imagery and tell stories that smash the norms of DTC advertising. We CAN create meaningful messages that do more than serve as fair balance wallpaper in a commercial pod.

We continually struggle to get standout creative to market. We don’t always succeed but that doesn’t mean we or anyone else should stop trying.

Let’s never give anyone reason to rip on our creative again. Do it first and foremost for the consumer. They deserve better. Then let’s do it for ourselves. Because we’re better than that.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Be the Patient

Every time I’ve started a patient-centric initiative, I’ve given the direction to my teams: Be the patient. I’ve found this helps provide my creatives with a deeper understanding of what an average patient is going through. Recently, I took my own advice a bit too literally—I broke my left humerus bone and spent a day in an ER, followed by a day spent with a highly regarded orthopedist. Having never broken a major bone before, the experience was both very painful and very instructive.

Upon arrival at the hospital, I sensed an information disconnect—I kept asking questions but only got selective information in return. It seemed the hospital staff wanted me to feel comforted by giving me some answers while flat out ignoring others. They weren’t really listening to what I was asking for. This experience got me thinking about how we listen (or don’t listen) to patients in focus groups.

I’ve spent as much time as anyone in dark focus-group rooms, chain-chomping M&M’s® and taking notes on patient stories. But my accident made me wonder if my previous objectives had been to hear what I wanted to hear rather than to try to understand what patients were truly saying. Since patients are usually quite expressive in focus groups, if we really listen when they speak about how they are feeling, we can end up with keener, truer insights that might change the type of strategies and concepts we come up with in the future. It could also affect the patient’s long-term health.

For instance, at extrovertic we were recently able to discover a valuable truth about a patient group. This truth completely changed how we viewed the group and our approach, which ultimately resulted in very successful pre-launch and launch campaigns. We came to this truth by listening differently, not just to what the patients were saying about their condition, but to other significant experiences they’d been through in their lives. We established a greater understanding of our target demographic through this process.

To that end, listening beyond what patients are saying to truly get at what they are expressing or feeling can continue to help us find patient truths. With those truths, we can offer patients what they really need and not what we think they need. As a patient, I know I certainly would have appreciated being more closely listened to.

Are you really listening to what people are trying to tell you?