That drug's got personality. But is it 'original,' 'dependable,' or both?

Do drugs have personalities? Well, according to a new study, consumers think they do. And the way consumers perceive a drug's personality offers some clues for shaping those perceptions.

Think of it this way: When people go online looking for a date on or another of its ilk, they evaluate the listings along a few basic lines--looks, sense of humor, intelligence, interests, and so on. With drugs, the assessment is even simpler, the study in the Journal of Consumer Marketing found. Consumers judge drugs on two fundamental scales: competence and innovativeness.

So, the "brand personality" of a given product is essentially two-dimensional. Prospective patients use words like "dependable" and "solution-oriented" on the competence side of the equation, and "unique" and "original" on the innovativeness side. Pressing both of those buttons is a good way to get their attention.

Even better: Hitting each in a way calculated to set a particular drug brand apart from the pack. For instance, if competing drugs are all advertised in a Dependable Joe sort of way--using "safe" imagery and familiar narratives--then playing the innovative-and-original card, graphically as well as content-wise, could help.

A screen grab from Lipitor's 2011 "bicycle" ad, playing up safe choices. Watch the ad (login req.).

"Our findings can help marketers better understand how competing brands are positioned and act accordingly to ensure their products remain distinctive," study author Lea Katsanis of Concordia University said. "One way of achieving this could be to appropriately focus more on either the competence or innovativeness dimensions."

Katsanis and her co-author, Erica Leonard of a Roche subsidiary in Canada, point out a couple of complicating factors, however. After collecting data on 22 different drug brands, from 525 study participants, they discovered that the personality attributes consumers associated with drugs aren't the same as those physicians would use, at least according to previous research on doctors' perceptions.

Also, the drugs in this study--including Pfizer's ($PFE) Lipitor and GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Advair--are major blockbusters. The study's findings might not apply to more specialized products.The basic point holds true, however. Using the brand personality approach, and tweaking it according to the audience, can be worthwhile.

- read the study abstract
- see the release from Concordia University

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