In the September 2014 issue of MM&M, I came across a “ViewPoint” titled “Medical marketing needs mainstream Mad Men” written by John Barker (find it here).

The premise of the piece can be summed up in the last sentence: “Going forward, staying competitive in the ACA marketplace may mean asking more Mad Men to be Med Men.” That is, the pharmaceutical industry should hire agencies — such as Barker, which is Barker’s agency — that “don’t know the difference between the FDA and FDR. But they know branding.”

Yeah, that’s going to go over big with pharma brand teams, which these days are figuring out how to be more “patient-centric” while staying compliant with FDA regulations.

Barker’s logic is that somehow the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is forcing pharma marketers to “shape authentic and trusting relationships with their customers, moving beyond traditional selling points to generate emotional resonance with the target audience, not unlike Apple, Pepsi or Nike.”

Let’s leave ACA out of this for now and just consider branding versus customer relationship, aka “patient-centricity.”

First, I hate it when agencies suggest pharma brands emulate Apple! I’ve said this before (see “Channeling Steve Jobs to Solve Pharma’s Innovator’s Dilemma“) and I’ll say it again, regarding how Steve Jobs turned Apple around after 1996, he said “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. The products, not the profits, were the motivation.” Marketing does not create great products. Science (“Med Men” & WOMEN) create great products. Marketing and profits follow – remember what George Merck said (who?, Mad Man Don Draper asks).

Patient activists (i.e., “ePatients”) might also take exception to being referred to as a “target audience.” Empowered patients — aided and abetted by ACA — are not sitting around in a passive audience waiting to be targeted like some ISIS tank! They are using all the new information technologies — especially social media & mobile — to seek out and collect the information they need from TRUSTED sources. If pharma wants to be one of those sources, it needs to engage patients through these channels in an authentic manner (for more on that, read this). Unfortunately, that means putting the BRAND in the background, not the foreground.

Barker and other agencies that know how to create brand awareness may get this, but if they (1) are ignorant about FDA regulations, and (2) don’t know dick about ePatients, they should not be hired by pharma, IMHO (there goes my chance of ever having Barker’s agency as a client! although I welcome Barker to comment and/or be a guest on my Pharma Marketing Talk show).

Also, Mad Men is not the best metaphor to use, especially since the most engaged ePatients these days are women, which is something that MM&M seems to be aware of. Two women “mommie” advocates are featured on the cover and the focus of the issue is on finding “innovative ways to communicate with a tech-empowered audience.” Mad Men style brand advertising won’t accomplish that.