Movies and Medicine

Meds are all about ill-health, disease and everything morbid. Unlike consumer goods, there is no “value” attached to the purchase of meds. Consumers do not feel good about having to buy meds. It is neither a style statement for them nor something that they would like to flaunt around and spread through word of mouth. I haven’t heard too many living room conversations discussing meds nor recommending them. This probably happens because a) people don’t understand too much about them or b) they don’t WANT to know. Why would I want to discuss something that reminds me of hospitals and suffering. But are meds all about that? Isnt there a brighter side to it?

An unmet need for pharma marketers would probably be to swing the dread and morbidity associated with meds into the glory of a disease cured, of pain and suffering overcome, of giving hope to an individual. Its at this point that the regulators step in! Can pharmaceutical products promise hope? Meds are serious stuff and misinformation can sometimes be fatal. Therefore, its important to subdue or underplay information or route it through doctors who are trained in the use of meds. However, when it comes to disease information, does the same hold true? Is it not the duty of the pharma industry to create as much awareness about diseases, life-threatening or otherwise? Of course, there is a win for the industry. Increased awareness leads to increased diagnosis and that leads to increased prescriptions. But that isnt bad, is it? “Disease Mongering” as John Mack calls it, is bad! And I am not a proponent of that at all! What I am talking about is how does one help people to realize that the lifestyle they lead is bad and can result in a potential life-threatening disease. Anti-tobacco lobbies tried that over decades. All they got were grudging acknowledgements from smokers while they continued to puff away on their cigarettes!

Smokers know that smoking can kill. Lovers know that unsafe sex is dangerous. This didnt happen because God decided it was time for another Apocalypse. It happened after years of diligent awareness campaigns that guzzled in millions of advertising dollars. Those dollars could have come from govt budgets, NGOs or from commercial firms who sought to ‘increase the pie’. Increasing the pie is a tricky situation. Where will investments give marketers the biggest bang for the buck? Disease awareness or brand promotion? Must I invest in disease awareness when I am not the market leader? Or must I invest in disease awareness to become the market leader?

The Nirodh campaign of the 1980s made condoms famous in India. Nirodh was a brand of condoms that the Govt of India distributed free through PHCs. I dont know if they still do! The campaign was hard hitting. The word ‘sex’ was taboo in India then and the Liril ad was considered as path-breaking and “modern” because it showed a model in a swimsuit under a waterfall. Condoms were unheard of! The media then was govt controlled and therefore the campaign hogged prime time on TV. I was a teenager then and I remember sniggering everytime someone said “Nirodh”. The campaign had to happen because safe sex wasnt practised very much in those days. But as I grew up and set forth on my ‘valiant conquests’, the thought of safe sex was very acceptable. Why did this happen? I would like to think that this was because I grew up watching the Nirodh campaign in print and on TV. I understood the necessity for safe sex. It was part of life! But did I ever buy a Nirodh? No! I bought Kamasutra! While Nirodh created awareness on safe sex, Kamasutra made it glamorous. The metrosexual man identified with it and wanted it. KS, as it was popularly called, had style quotient. It was “cool”! Kamasutra was the first brand that piggybacked the Nirodh campaign to present a solution for the created need.

Similarly, shouldn’t somebody start an awareness campaign for life-threatening diseases such as hypertension? Who would do this? Should we wait for Govt institutions or NGOs to begin doing it? Or should companies like Pfizer, who are ‘Global Leaders in Cardiovascular Care’, take the lead in this initiative?

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