Tribal marketing n. A marketing strategy that attempts to create social groups or communities that are centered around a product or service. The credo of tribal marketing is that postmodern people are looking for products and services that not only enable them to be freer, but can also link them to others, to a community, to a tribe.

An example of a tribal marketing tactic is reported on in today’s Wall Street Journal in an article entitled “Marketers’ New Idea: Get the Consumer To Design the Ads” (subscription required):

“Drawing consumers into marketing campaigns is a time-honored tactic, whether companies are searching for the new Oscar Mayer kid, Brawny man, or Crayola Crayon colors. But in recent years, the Internet has furthered the conversation between corporations and consumers, tapping into the public’s views and talents on a grander scale. Meanwhile, new technologies enable even amateurs to create sophisticated images.’ [WSJ]

I’ve often said that ideas from general packaged goods consumer advertising eventually make their way into Rx direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. Divisions of the same ad agencies create pharma ads and the pharma industry has been open to learning techniques from the packaged goods industry.

Imagine, if you will, creating your own Viagra ad!

Recent criticisms of DTC may put a damper on such cross-industry creative pollination. The pharma industry has to be very careful how it advertises drugs, especially those with serious potential side effects. Case in point: Vioxx. Merck’s advertising and marketing were cited as the main reason why the lone juror in the recent federal Vioxx case held out and caused a mistrial. I haven’t seen that lone juror’s comments, only comments from other jurors like this one:

According to one juror, the holdout wasn’t swayed by the majority’s argument. “Basically the sticking point was the marketing” of Vioxx, this juror said. “There was just folding of the arms and rolling of the eyes and not listening,” and saying that “the marketing was inappropriate and that kind of thing,” the juror added. [Reported in yesterday’s WSJ: “Lone Holdout Forces Mistrial in Third Vioxx Case“]

Generation Rx Tribal Marketing
Tribal marketing is exactly what the pharmaceutical industry has already perfected according to Greg Crister, in his new book, Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies.

Crister puts forth the notion that “big pharma” has created a nation of pharmaceutical tribes, each with its own unique beliefs, taboos, and brand loyalties. According to Crister, there are 3 such tribes:

Tribe of High-Performance Youth: children and adolescents who are medicated for depression, attention deficit disorder, and a range of other psychological and behavioral problems mostly because of ““their parents’ completely understandable wish that they perform well in a society of ever increasing demands to perform well, nay, superbly.”

Tribe of Productivity and Comfort (Middle Years): those of us at the middle-to-late points in our careers as parents and/or earners who are preprogrammed to consume drugs like Lipitor, Viagra, Prozac, and Prilosec, to ““shore up our ability to produce more and better and to relieve discomfit, including the discomfit of having to watch what and how much we eat and drink and of sitting on our duff.”

Tribe of High-Performance Aging: seniors who take drugs ““not only to alleviate the discomfit of aging, but also to extend their lives.”

You can read more about Crister’s thesis and an interesting first-person history of pharmaceutical marketing by reading the upcoming issue of Pharma Marketing News (subscription required).