With television ads apparently losing their sway, pharma marketers are increasingly turning to social media, despite the fact that they have numerous digital shortcomings.

A new campaign launched by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) demonstrates why addressing those shortcomings is so important.

The campaign, dubbed Take 5 for Meningitis, aims to educate young adults and their parents about meningitis B, a potentially deadly bacterial infection for which GSK offers a vaccine.

As detailed by FiercePharma's Carly Helfand, GSK and competitor Pfizer have had Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for meningitis B vaccines since 2015 and 2014, but "sales haven’t taken off the way the companies had hoped they would."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has yet to grant either vaccine a "universal use" recommendation, so right now it's up to doctors and patients to make a decision about vaccination.

While Helfand says Pfizer is promoting its vaccine through a television campaign, GSK's Take 5 campaign incorporates content marketing through meningitis.com, social channels and offline events featuring Jamie Schanbaum and Nick Springer, US Paralympians who survived meningitis.

Given the digital-heavy nature of the campaign and its target audience, it's not surprising that it was launched at the annual BlogHer social media conference in Los Angeles. 

Storytelling in action

The bad news for companies like GSK is that the industry's reputation is not good, and the hits just keep on coming.

Case in point: Mylan, the company that makes the EpiPen used to treat severe, life-threatening allergic reactions, has reinvigorated the debate over drug pricing after hiking EpiPen pricing significantly.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer ads that pitch prescription drugs and medical devices, and the Mylan headlines only bolster arguments that greater regulation is needed.

While the drug pricing issue is a complicated one, it has served as an opportunity for pharma marketers to reflect on their relationship with consumers.

Instead of running "dumb ads," pharma marketers have a real opportunity to tell compelling, emotional stories that are of benefit not only to pharma companies' reputations, but the consumers who receive them as well.

At its heart, GSK's efforts to boost meningitis B vaccinations rely heavily on the power of storytelling. 

"Meningitis changed my entire life when I was just a kid. I lost most of my legs and arms and later learned that there was a vaccine that might have protected me against the disease," Nick Springer stated in a press release.

"No one should have to go through what I’ve gone through and that’s why I’m working with GSK to tell my story."

It's not the only example of GSK's growing use of multi-channel storytelling.

The company, which markets the Excedrin Migraine medication, recently developed a campaign that took advantage of augmented reality and generated millions of video views and hundreds of thousands of social engagements.

The campaign took home three awards at the Cannes Lions Health show.

The good news for companies like GSK, particularly as it relates to the Take 5 campaign targeting young adults, is that despite the pharma industry's reputational woes, millennials are "by far the most receptive to pharmaceutical marketing." 

This suggests that as pharma marketers hone their storytelling skills, their efforts will have the potential to produce results.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 September, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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