Give it to us straight, doctors tell pharma advertisers—but being funny is OK, too

Young female doctor sitting at desk in front of computer covering face with hand in frustration
Even doctors don't get some of the messaging in healthcare advertising, so keep it simple and creative, a new survey suggests. (Getty Images/PRImageFactory)

Want to catch doctors’ attention with flashy advertising and intellectual jargon? Don’t bother. A new study finds that physicians prefer simple and clear messages, with more than half (51%) admitting they don’t always understand what’s being communicated in pharma advertising.

The survey of primary care physicians by GSW and the Harris Poll revealed 76% of docs prefer simple language in advertising. Physicians understand how people could be confused by messages they see or read from marketers, because they themselves also get perplexed. More than one-third (39%) of doctors said they are sometimes confused by messaging, and another 35% reported being overwhelmed on occasion by the language used in the ads.

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“Overall, the fact that the survey highlighted simplicity as a theme is a big takeaway. While the idea of simplicity may seem like table stakes to creating impactful communications, recognizing it is much-needed steps in the right direction,” Amanda Joly, executive vice president, brand and experience strategy at Syneos Health's GSW, said in an email interview.

“PCPs know they need to have clinical data and technical information to make sound decisions as a physician. However, they also find value in information that's presented in a straightforward manner. This means a balance between the clinical and the practical is important, as physicians need to translate and convey the same information to their patients in a way that is easy to understand and act upon," she added. 

That doesn’t mean ads have to be boring, however. Doctors like a good laugh in advertising, with 62% saying they liked funny ads. Another 51% gave the thumbs-up for creative work, and 49% said they liked “unique” ads.

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The plain language preference also doesn’t mean pharma marketers should treat doctors like consumers. GSW's guiding principle it calls “Speak People” encourages listening to healthcare audience needs to create relevant communications solutions based on the problem being solved, Joly said, pointing out that insights and language both matter when trying to build stronger connections.

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