Innovation director puts new title to the test with virtual reality glasses and 3D cities in pharma marketing

PrecisionEffect's recently promoted innovation director Simon Wilson has worked with big-time brands like L’Oreal and Diageo and in an earlier film career, with famed director Stanley Kubrick. He’s crafted pop-up breweries and put 25 can-can dancers on an elevated bridge for marketing efforts.

But now his favorite place to be is in pharma and healthcare marketing.

“I kind of fell into it 15 years ago and I’ve been here ever since. And I love it,” he said. “I love the challenge of it. I love the fact they say ‘you can’t do that in healthcare' and I say 'well, we should certainly try.'”

Wilson, promoted earlier this year from creative director to innovation chief, joined PrecisionEffect in 2010 after it bought Big Pink, a U.K. healthcare agency Wilson co-founded and where he served as creative director for more than 20 years.

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His specialty in health and pharma is using technology in creative ways. For example, when working with a CNS client just before the pandemic, he got healthcare professionals’ attention by making them sick—temporarily at least.

PrecisionEffect researchers discovered that the client’s target group of physicians were generally brushing off the vision and dizziness side effects of traditional standard-care treatments.

So Wilson and his team created a customized Google Cardboard headset to send out with sales reps. Doctors strapped on the virtual reality glasses and with the flip of a switch, experienced the double vision, vertigo and dizziness side effects that their elderly patients felt when taking the competitors’ drugs. PrecisionEffects’ client marketed a newer style patch treatment.

The goal was to show doctors that the side effects they were brushing off were serious. And the result? More patient empathy from the doctors—and an uptick in prescriptions.

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“The whole idea of innovation is taking an idea and bringing it into practical reality,” Wilson said.

He’s working on a project right now building a 3D city for Alzheimer’s disease where people will be able to ride around virtually in a taxi using real-time animation in a browser. While mum on more specifics, he did say the effort will tap HCPs to involve them in creating content.

While Wilson is a tech and innovation aficionado, he’s also a believer in traditional pharma education and information marketing campaigns as complementary to the more creative experiential work.

“What we’re trying to do is add to that. If you get an active experience, your recall is better, your understanding of it is better,” he said.