Can BIO's heartfelt image campaign win hearts and minds? Pharma skeptics aren't convinced

The pharma industry is once again trying to move the national drug conversation beyond cost and profits--this time with an emotional ad campaign featuring patients young and old who've been given longer lives thanks to biopharma drug discoveries.

Created by trade association BIO, the one-minute TV ad and companion website ask viewers to consider the value of the extra time that biopharma drugs can offer.

The ad "Time is Precious" says via voiceover: "Another decade with a spouse. A few more years with your best friend. A rich, full life rather than one cut short. How do we place value on these? Today's breakthroughs in biopharmaceutical medicines are delivering more than stunning outcomes, more than cures. They are giving us hope. They are giving us time. Time. What is more precious, priceless, and what better reason to push forward the cures we see so close at hand?"

The latest effort follows a similar push meant to improve the industry's reputation. Launched by PhRMA, it features patients and researchers in a new "From Hope to Cures" campaign that tells the story of pharma's fight against disease.

Both trade groups have a vested interest in the pharma industry's success, as the Boston Globe reported, noting both are top lobbying organizations "with PhRMA spending $18.4 million last year and BIO's outlays totaling $8.4 million." The article quoted John Rother, president of the National Coalition on Health Care, which reps 85 consumer groups, healthcare providers, and insurers, saying that he is skeptical the ads will work.

"I think the public and lawmakers recognize that there's important medicine coming to market, but that's not the issue," Rother told the Globe. "The public outrage over the price of drugs is a matter of personal finance. These drug companies are pricing drugs to maximize profits."

BIO CEO Jim Greenwood

Jim Greenwood, the president and CEO of BIO, sees it differently. In a release about the new campaign, he said it's time for people to hear about the medical breakthroughs biopharma is bringing.

"With this effort, BIO is advancing the national public policy debate over the cost and value of medicine, shining a spotlight on the fact that innovative, life-saving medicines provide benefits far beyond their costs," he said.

However, with the reputation hole that pharma is currently in, is it realistic that the public, and maybe more importantly campaigning politicians, will change their minds?

Derek Lowe, a pharma chemist and author of Science magazine's "In the Pipeline" blog, summed up the pharma reputation problem and the general doubt in the industry about these kind of campaigns.

"You can't use reason to argue someone out of a position that they didn't get to by reason. The dislike for drug companies has such a large emotional component in it that I fear that no amount of 'But here's what we do for you' will overcome it," he told FiercePharmaMarketing via email. "After all, if someone comes up to you and says 'I disagree with what you said about X,' you can have a discussion. If they say 'I don't like your shirt,' well, de gustibus non est disputandum (which roughly translates to 'There's no disputing about taste.')

"But if they come up to you and say 'I hate you. You're an evil bastard,' what do you do about that? Try to convince them that they don't hate you?"

- see the Boston Globe article
- read BIO's press release