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National Capital Chapter

Now, and Always—How Pharma Brands Can Get Their Messaging Right During the Pandemic

by Jonathan Wilson, Owner & CEO Spectrum Science

It’s been more than 60 days since parts of the U.S. began entering lockdown due to COVID-19. As people continue to adjust to the evolving pandemic, companies and brands are adjusting too—including their communications efforts. Many have shifted their messaging from selling products to taking an empathetic approach that emphasizes how companies are serving the public for the greater good. Across TV, radio and digital media, we see and hear common refrains across industries. “We’re in this together,” “In these unprecedented times” and “We stay connected” are just a few of the phrases that are everywhere and, with that, losing their meaning.

“Now more than ever” is another such ubiquitous phrase—and one I’ll argue negatively impacts any company that uses it.  As a brand, a mission or purpose—whatever drives a company and its employees—is one of the most critical building blocks. But using the phrase “now more than ever” suggests a brand is showing empathy towards their customers only due to the current environment. It suggests that the company has a newfound or renewed purpose due to the challenging times, health crisis and economic downturn.

In contrast, two recent ads beautifully demonstrate a consistent commitment to purpose with the messaging “now, and always.”

Progressive Insurance

With fewer cars on the road, and fewer car crashes, many car insurance companies are giving customers money back. But Progressive released an ad that highlights what they’ve always stood for—finding the lowest prices. The ad closes with the message: “That’s how we’ve done it for the past 80 years. Not just today, or this month, but always.” This stands out from the sea of sameness by demonstrating that caring for customers is authentic to the brand’s core purpose. Progressive truly gets the current challenge, because they always have.

Frito-Lay

The latest ad from Frito-Lay puts the company’s mission at the forefront—the brand is all about making people happy and, during this time, it’s no different. There is no need to elaborate on the pandemic or the value of happiness faced with the reality of COVID-19 because their message didn’t need to change—just the context.

Both of these ads exemplify why a brand should always stand for what it stands for—not just amidst the current pandemic.

So where does healthcare fit into all of this? It’s no secret the pharma industry often has greater challenges with consumer trust and sentiment. However, as people look to health and science companies to lead us out of this pandemic, their reputations are on a bit of a high. This is an important moment of opportunity for healthcare brands to not only deepen consumer trust, but authentically reinforce their purpose, mission and vision. It’s difficult to do that if everything is generic (another challenge for a traditionally more conservative industry) or feels like a pivot that won’t last beyond the next few months, only to be put in the storage closet then resurrected for the next crisis.

The answer is authenticity. Authenticity means now, always and forever—not “now more than ever.” And when a company is authentic to its values, there is no room for being generic. Authenticity not only differentiates but reinforces brand trust and loyalty.

Reverting to (or reimagining) any sense of normal is completely dependent on the discovery and distribution of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine and COVID-19 treatments—and people’s trust in those same solutions. So as the public looks to the pharma industry for leadership through the pandemic, the messaging must continue to stand for, as always, saving and enhancing lives. Not now more than ever, but now as ever, it must be clear that health, well-being and safety is at the forefront of everything we do.


About the Author

Jonathan Wilson is the Owner and CEO of Spectrum Science, an integrated marketing, communications and media agency hyper-focused on science.