Content Marketing: Beyond the RTBs

By: Heather Linnell, VP, Creative Director (5/14/2015)

Did you see the new Star Wars 7 trailer? Of course you did. I’m sure productivity around here dropped significantly for a few minutes after it was released. I wasn’t quite thrown back to my childhood years like some of my colleagues—but, I did get a tingling sensation up and down my arms. If we had all watched it together, I’m sure there would have been collective cheering when Han Solo and Chewie made their appearance.

Heroic tales, like Star Wars, have stirred us to our core for as long as we’ve had language. Modern research demonstrates the emotional connectedness we can feel to these stories. Paul Zak, a pioneer in the field of neuroeconomics, has conducted studies showing that a character-led story can cause the release of oxytocin and increase empathy-fueled behavior. If we identify with the main characters, our minds open like a blooming flower. My colleague recently shared his thoughts on the power of storytelling for a PhamaVOICE feature .

As a creative, sitting behind the research glass, we get to know the central characters for our brand narratives. We become attuned to the struggles they face. We learn how illnesses have changed their lives. We carefully use this to craft a brand campaign showing we empathize—we get them. But a single print ad or digital display ad won’t go beyond that. You don’t just hand a Padawan a lightsaber and call them a Jedi. As marketers, we’ve got to help them learn how to unlock their full potential, and that means going beyond getting our product into their hands.


A number of non-pharma brands have successfully embraced this principle and built companion stories and content as a way to benefit the full consumer experience. Airbnb created in-depth Neighborhood Guides to help travelers get comfortable in their new “homes.” Callaway Golf has a YouTube channel with free lessons for even the greenest of golfers. Nike recently launched a new campaign targeted at women called, “Better For It.” It features a new ad, companion app, and exercise programs created by women’s U.S. soccer stars.

Pharma is starting to get wise to the importance of engagement through content, as well. Pfizer has a solid entry with Get Old, which curates content on aging. Their Twitter account has a booming 34,000 followers.


With the marketing dollars, institutional knowledge, healthcare professional leadership, and access to key patient influencers, we are in an unprecedented position to bring it all together and partner with our audience. Whether it’s in the form of emotionally powerful stories, how-to articles, contextual infographics, a practical mobile app, or all of the above, a wide and varied content program can propel patients towards a transformation—and brand loyalty.

If you still have doubts, let me draw your attention back to Nike. I realize it’s not a fair comparison for everyone (with their budgets in the billions), but it speaks in quantifiable terms to the shift going on around us. Nike dropped their TV and print budget by 40% to redirect it to platforms that directly engage with consumers, and… you know what? Their revenue is still increasing five years later. The moral of this story is: don’t leave your heroes to struggle on their own. Find a way to interact with them more closely, and, like the Force, be with them.

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