The Power of Education

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When GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was preparing to launch its over-the-counter weight loss solution Alli, one of its first marketing moves was to focus clearly on health issues, rather than on brand-building.

"We launched QuestionEverything.com in April 2006 as a way of educating consumers and dispelling myths about diet, weight loss and what is proven and what is not," explains Alli brand manager Isha Williams. "This is an unbranded site, but we created a place [where] consumers could get a lot of questions answered in one place. We see it as our responsibility to educate the broader community with healthy messages."

GSK added a second site, MyAlli.com, for its branded messages once the drug was approved, but QuestionEverything still plays a valuable interactive role.

"These sites also help us listen to consumer questions and [understand] the type of education they may need," says Williams.

"For pharmaceutical [companies], providing information that can help patients understand and manage their condition is a way of giving something back," explains Mike Rutstein, EVP and director of the consumer healthcare practice at Draftfcb, who worked on an unbranded hepatitis C campaign sponsored by Roche.

"What works is not being too heavy handed, but not too light," says Rutstein. "Be honest in recommending other treatment options [so] the campaign [doesn't] come across as completely self-serving."

Fabio Gratton, chief innovation officer at Ignite Health, stresses that non-branded education campaigns don't work for every new drug or therapy, adding that the leading therapy or drug provider for a particular disease is often the biggest beneficiary. "When you grow that category, then you're growing your business," he says.

Long-term commitment, which often begins well before a company launches a new treatment, is key to unbranded healthcare campaigns.

"Be careful about how far out you begin to educate about a particular disease state because you don't want to alarm people before you can offer a solution," notes Rutstein. "But to appreciate a therapy, you need some understanding. Companies such as Merck believe in a year or two years of education before [it] even introduce[s] the therapy."

Web sites seem to be the best venue for this type of campaign because they provide an anonymous way for consumers to learn about a disease without having to make the often intimidating visit to a doctor.

Gratton stresses that unbranded campaigns can provide ways for consumers to get additional branded information. "You shouldn't have mandatory registration unless you have a pretty good value proposition," he adds. "But if you're intending to provide additional information, you should have an opt-in."

Billboards, DRTV and direct mail pieces can all play a role in delivering unbranded health information. And, despite screen size, Rutstein suggests the best tool going forward may be mobile.

"It [could] simply be a reminder to drink a healthy beverage if you're a diabetic," he says. "Mobile devices ultimately may become hand-held disease-state managers."

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