Pharma companies' television ads are losing their sway with consumers.

And due to scrutiny from the public, government regulators and even physicians, pharma marketers are spending more on unbranded ads, some of which have been criticised for being unnecessarily scary.

But for all the challenges and criticism the pharma industry faces today, there are plenty of opportunities, and some companies are taking advantage of them.

Take for instance Novartis, which teamed up with the American Heart Association and actress/singer Queen Latifah as part of their Rise Above Heart Failure initiative.

Queen Latifah's mother, Rita Owens, experienced heart failure 10 years ago, prompting lifestyle changes that have enabled her to manage her condition, and inspiring her daughter to get involved with helping others who are dealing with heart failure or supporting a family member who is.

A better way to tell a story

The Rise Above Heart Failure initiative, which includes events, media outreach and digital content distributed on the American Heart Association's website and through social media, was a natural fit for Novartis.

The company is behind Entresto, a heart failure drug that was approved by the FDA in 2015, and while it hasn't yet produced the sales expected, possibly due to its price tag, Novartis will have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing and development.

Initially, some of its marketing of Entresto drew significant criticism.

As FiercePharma's Beth Snyder Bulik detailed, Novartis's first attempt at direct-to-consumer ads for Entresto "sparked protests from cardiologists and consumers for its stark depiction equating heart failure to a room filling with water while a patient calmly reads the paper."

That ad was pulled in the face of the criticism.

Aligning itself with the Rise Above Heart Failure initiative is a much more positive undertaking, and gives Novartis the opportunity to engage in storytelling using digital channels.

Interestingly, one of those channels is Facebook Live, which was used to broadcast a live panel discussion on World Heart Day that featured Queen Latifah and medical doctor Karol E. Watson, a professor of medicine/cardiology and the co-director of the UCLA Program in Preventive Cardiology.

Nearly 1,000 people tuned in to the event on Facebook Live, which Queen Latifah hoped would help others who have dealt with heart failure.

"I really just want the millions of Americans who are touched by heart failure to share their story – and their 'red steps’ – and to speak up about the condition," she said in a press release.

According to Novartis spokesperson...

We were drawn by the potential of Facebook Live to reach a wide audience in real time, to facilitate live engagement, and to allow on-demand viewing.

The company, which expects Entresto sales to hit $200m this year, obviously can't rely exclusively on sponsorship of Facebook Live events to spread the word about its drugs.

But Rise Above Heart Failure shows how pharma companies can facilitate and be a part of more meaningful discussions that are personal, emotional and provide tangible value to consumers.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 October, 2016 by Patricio Robles

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

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