Medical Advertising: Pletal’s Attention-Grabbing Campaign!

by buildingpharmabrands

Pletal Med Ad

Prescription-drug advertising requires a message, which quickly and clearly defines the product: what it is and what it does and why it is the best alternative.

Consider the case of a new brand in the market for intermittent claudication in the U.S.  For a long time Trental (pentoxyfylline) was rather the lone wolf having a dominant presence. Trental aggressively promoted the brand including a DTC campaign. But when it went generic in 1987, the promotional effort virtually came to a grinding halt. There was no immediate successor for almost fifteen years and consequently the treatment of intermittent claudication decreased. Furthermore, market research revealed that many physicians doubted that there was much more than placebo effect in pharmaceuticals for the condition. What is more, many patients as well as physicians accepted this symptom merely as an inevitable consequence of aging.

Pletal’s (cilostazol) advertising campaign, launched in the year 2000, offers a classic example of reviving interest in the product class and establishing the brand firmly in the minds of physicians. Otuska America Pharmaceutical and Pharmacia Corporation jointly marketed Pletal, for effective treatment of intermittent claudication, a symptom of peripheral arterial disease where a patient, usually elderly, will experience pain or cramping in the calf, thigh, or buttock when walking, that stops upon rest. The drug has vasodilatory and anti-platelet activity, which increases blood flow to the extremities.

The challenge for the marketing team on the brand was that the product category had drifted out of the prescribing physician’s consciousness. The creative assignment, therefore, was to revive physician and patient interest in the category and deliver a message of effectiveness convincingly.

The copy testing showed that physicians liked the idea of quality-of-life messages as positive activities such as walking faster without pain. The end-benefit approach – the smiling patient was not as appealing as most of the prescription-drug advertisements were fact-oriented, effectiveness-based increasing the skepticism of physicians to pharma advertising in general and a low-interest category in particular.

Phil Wiener, the vice-president and group art director at the advertising agency PACE, came up with an idea of combining a shoe with an odometer, when he was experimenting with graphic devices to represent Pletal’s effectiveness – visuals of improvement in walking such as multiple footprints and calculators of distance. When he showed this idea to ED Shankman, vice president and group director, copy at the agency, he wrote the copy line: More miles per lifetime on the spot spontaneously. The distinct product-defining element had been created.

The opening page of the ad presents the viewer with the close up of an oversized shoe with an odometer superimposed on it, filling almost the entire page with a telling impact stopping the reader in his tracks. Copy on the shoe between the laces and toe reads:

For your patients with

Intermittent claudication

Pletal offers more…

And beneath this text is the mileage dial of an odometer displaying a five-digit figure. The ad had raised the curiosity as to the more offered by Pletal and the relevance of odometer’s numbers. Pages two and three of the ad and the sales aid pay off the tease of the previous page. Running across the spread in a forceful display is the headline, More Miles per Lifetime, explaining the more and the odometer shoe. There is realistic, everyday picture of a gray-haired oder man seated in an easy chair tying his shoelaces. The shoes are properly sized with odometer on both shoes.

The tone of the copy or message too has changed from an imaginary odometer shoe to a practical patient-focused situation. The human element has been added; the patient, having been benefited from the use of Pletal, is preparing to go for a walk and across the bottom of the page in a strip photo of him striding along a path in a park-like setting. Copy on page three is minimal and straight forward:

Clinically proven to improve pain-free walking distance in patients diagnosed with intermittent claudication.

Pletal, The first therapy approved in 15 years for intermittent claudication

In the 12-page sales aid, what follows are pages on efficacy, mechanism of Pletal’s action, safety, dosing, and other mandatory product background.

Furthermore, on successive spreads, running along the top of the pages, the gray-haired man is seen as he walks through his neighborhood – past a line of stores accompanied by his dog, again in a park now with a female companion, on suburban street with a male friend, and lastly, on a seaside boardwalk with a child. As the representative reviews the scientific data on Pletal with the physician, the strip photos illustrate the patient benefits of the product, consistently and continuously highlighting the core theme – greater walking distance without pain. In other words, More miles per lifetime!

The advertising appeal comes from the fusion of two ordinary recognizable things – shoes and odometer. The giant-sized shoe is a strong impact device as its real value is fundamental to the patient condition and to the product. This ad ran in a number of leading medical journals.

The campaign’s strength and effectiveness lies in the physicians’ appreciation that the product can restore the patient’s independence. The symbolism of the easy chair too is important. Thanks to Pletal, we can get the patient out of that chair and moving again! 

Can you think of creating a graphic device and write compelling copy to highlight the core patient benefit that your product presents to grab the attention of physicians in today’s attention-deficit market place and sustain it?