Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When branding's a matter of life and death

I have a cold today. All together now..... aaahhhhh! But don't feel sorry for me, it's given me a new topic to blog about .... pharmaceuticals. Alleviating a cold, or managing things more serious, exposes you to the medicine cupboard or, even more exciting, encourages a trip to the local pharmacy.

Pharmacies are a unique retail experience. They are alien lands full of life-saving and, potentially, life-threatening toxins that we willingly ingest to maintain the rhythm of life.

But it's a challenging shopping experience, where you're faced with not only heavily promoted 'big name' brands, but also generics. In theory, the latter are no different than the home brands that feature in supermarket shelves, but their purpose makes it a much harder leap psychologically than swapping, say, Arnotts cream biscuits for the Safeway brand. In the pharmacy, it requires a much greater leap of faith in the integrity of the generic manufacturer.

I am not experienced in marketing pharmaceuticals, but it would be interesting to see how the introduction of lower cost generics impacts on the sale of branded products. In fact, would any branded products be sold in pharmacies if it wasn't for the 'fear' factor - the fear of ingesting powerful chemicals that could wreak havoc if not mixed in exactly the right ratios and to the most stringent manufacturing standards?

It is one industry where being first to market is an enormous advantage. In how many other sectors do you refer to solutions by the brand name, for example, 'take a Codral', or 'take some Aspro'. Car industry marketers would love it if solutions to personal transport were expressed as 'you need a Ford' or 'get yourself a Mercedes'. It just doesn't happen - or at least not as often as in pharmaceuticals, where brands are a substitute for a generic descriptor. It's why patents are all-important and fiercely defended in that industry.

I've got to say, brand works for me in pharmaceuticals because, in my deep subconscious, I think of brand integrity as a matter of life and death. Ahhhh... chhhoooo.

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