Latest News

November 4, 2016 0

After years of unbranded ads for shingles, Merck is now promoting its vaccine by brand name. Why the change? Glaxo just filed for approval for its shingles vaccine and Merck now needs to build up the brand Zostavax. When doctors had one choice Merck did not need consumers to ask by brand name. Soon asking doctors about shingles will not necessarily mean getting Zostavax.

Merck’s Zostavax ad is very different from the Terry Bradshaw disease awareness ads. It shows an active senior aged woman swimming and a voice over describing a slower immune system can lead to shingles. The ad is using British accented actors to represent the virus and the vaccine. I guess there is something about a British accent that adds gravitas.

Bob Ehrlich
“Merck now needs to build up the brand Zostavax.”
-Bob Ehrlich

There are only a few vaccine ads using DTC. Theraflu, Fluzone, and Prevnar 13 are some that have used television. Vaccines are a tough area for DTC because of the relatively low revenue stream they provide. A shot annually, or every five to ten years, does not lend itself to easy payback. Prevnar 13, based on its ongoing spending, appears to be very successful in generating sales. Flu commercials are done only in season so they have a short burst media strategy which helps ROI metrics.

Shingles is a year round problem. It is relatively rare arising in 200,000 people annually. That is about 10 cases for every 1000 people age 60+. About only 28% of the senior population have been vaccinated so there is a lot of room to grow. Clearly Zostavax has the goal to get their brand awareness up in advance of a Glaxo entry. This new 75 second ad is well done as it illustrates what shingles is and how is occurs. Its tone is serious and informational. The swimmer never speaks as the audio track is a play between the voice of the virus saying it is lurking inside and the vaccine saying how it will help prevent outbreaks.

The disease ads previously had Bradshaw and others discuss the painful outbreaks they faced. This ad is more of an announcement type ad relying on the basic information of what shingles is and how Zostavax works. I liked the real people testimonials in the disease ads but understand why as an announcement ad for the brand Merck went this way.

My guess is Merck will shift back to testimonials after establishing strong brand awareness. Their priority now is to get the name Zostavax strongly remembered as the shingles solution. Once Glaxo is out there with its version, Merck will need to offer competitive differentiation. For now, this ad will get the job done.

Bob Ehrlich

May 20, 2015

In her 1996 book It Takes a Village, current presidential candidate and former United States Senator, First Lady, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton detailed her view that multiple determinants, such as community involvement, cultural/environmental influences and social interactions, contribute to how a child is raised. Similarly, inciting a consumer call to action with disease prevention outreach programs takes an amalgamation of different social and behavioral theories which rely on the same factors as the village concept. Studies assert that outreach programs based on more than one theoretical foundation, including Million Hearts which was established by combining the Health Belief Model (HBM) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), are more likely to produce a desired positive outcome than those that lack theory or are based on only one theory.

The Health Belief Model

The first social behavioral theoretical foundation, Health Belief Model (HBM), emphasizes that the willingness to take action and prevent risk depends upon the beliefs about the susceptibility and severity of disease; the perceptions about the benefits and barriers; cues to action and self-efficacy.

In a hypertension prevention study, Hispanic respondents not only misperceived that certain behaviors are barriers that would increase their risk factors, but also expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to perform such behaviors as having their BP checked regularly, limiting their salt intake, eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily, exercising at least 30 minutes four or more days of the week, and controlling their weight. The general perception that hypertension was not a severe disease and the susceptibility misunderstanding resulted in 68.6% of the respondents being at increased risk for developing hypertension.

The Theory of Planned Behavior

The second social behavioral theoretical foundation, Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), assumes that attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control predict actual behavior. Attitude refers to beliefs merged with the value placed on the behavioral performance outcome. Subjective norm signifies the perception of the social expectations to adopt a specific behavior. Perceived behavioral control reflects the beliefs about the level of ease or difficulty of performance behavior.

A circle of culture surfaced in a hypertension prevention study concerning poor eating patterns passed from generation to generation; physician distrust and questioning reasons doctors would want to lower BP because of the belief that physicians would not have a job if they addressed this health issue; and an unwelcome move that changes consumers from insiders to outsiders when they act differently by engaging in healthy behaviors. Severing cultural traditions and adopting preventive behaviors suggested by health care professionals resulted in social pressures.

Combining HBM & TPB: The Million Hearts™ Program

The Million Hearts™ national outreach program engages Community Health Workers (CHWs) to help achieve the goal of preventing one million heart attacks and strokes in the United States by 2017. The CHWs educate consumers about the importance of fit lifestyles and specifically promote these tenets for maintaining a healthy BP:

1)     Having routine screenings for high BP;

2)     Understanding BP numbers and the significance of lowering BP while searching for economical ways to increase lower sodium and whole grain foods and still keep their weight within BMI;

3)     Comprehending the ramifications of uncontrolled BP that include damage to eyes, kidneys, heart blood vessels, and brain; high risk of heart attack and stroke; and chronic kidney failure requiring dialysis.

CHWs encourage consumers to interact with other members of the community including their physicians about clearly defined health goals and keep a daily record of BP readings to track progress. CHWs also introduce consumers to social workers and others who can teach them how to apply for programs and insurance that help pay for health care. Many Hispanic consumers prefer to learn information with plain language fotonovelas, similar to comic books, which are common in the culture. Personal interaction is carried out by “promotoras” from the same ethnic background who honor the tradition of reading a fotonovela with consumers.

In summary, creating a consumer call to action with disease prevention outreach programs such as a Million Hearts™ takes a village of community involvement, cultural/environmental influences and social interactions supported by different theories including HBM and TPB. The underlying premise is that a combination of theories informs the message. Theories determine why, what, and how a health issue should be addressed and assist in developing successful program strategies that reach targeted priority populations to affect a positive impact.


Del Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, María et al. “Hypertension Improvement Project (HIP) Latino: Results of a Pilot Study of Lifestyle Intervention for Lowering Blood Pressure in Latino Adults.” Ethnicity & Health 15.3 (2010): 269–282. PMC. Web. 19 May 2015.

Glanz, Karen, Rimer, Barbara K., andViswanath, K. Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice (4th ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2008.

Noar, Seth M., Chabot, Melissa, and Zimmerman, Richard S. “Applying Health Behavior Theory to Multiple Behavior Change: Considerations and Approaches.” Prevention Medicine. Volume 46. March 2008.

Peters, Rosalind M., and Thomas N. Templin. “Theory of Planned Behavior, Self-Care Motivation, and Blood Pressure Self-Care.” Research and Theory for Nursing Practice 24.3 (2010): 172–186.

Peters, Rosalind M., Karen J. Aroian, and John M. Flack. “African American Culture and Hypertension Prevention.” Western Journal of Nursing Research 28.7 (2006): 831–863. PMC. Web. 19 May 2015.


May 20, 2015

It’s pretty much impossible to count how many people in the world are afflicted with disease; there are simply too many diseases and too many people to count. And if you count the loved ones of those with diseases, then it’s safe to say that virtually everyone is affected by disease.

Our global population of roughly 7 billion people is afflicted with all kinds of diseases, from infectious to non-communicable. Yet education and action are sorely lacking in developing countries and even powerhouse nations like the United States.

It isn’t till one is burdened with illness that one can actually be aware of the severity and implications of it. Unfortunately, by then we must act in a reactive mode, rather than a proactive, preventative, and healthier one.

Activating: a year of disease awareness

Disease awareness months have been around since at least 1985, when the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries (now part of AstraZeneca) formed National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, every month has been claimed as an awareness month for many diseases. For example, May is Mental Health Month, Stroke Month, Lyme Disease Awareness Month, Celiac Awareness Month, Healthy Vision Month, and Arthritis Awareness Month, to name a few. The monthly “real estate” is totally crowded and the months have less impact when they are sharing with other groups who are also trying to build awareness.

The goal of awareness months is to educate and drive screening. They promote action by driving checkups, and get the larger communities involved in many different initiatives, from walks and runs to health fairs.

The abundance of disease awareness days, weeks, and months provides an opportunity to take a holistic educational view on disease states at large. Even if you’re living with and being treated for only one particular disease, it’s necessary to understand that there’s a whole universe of diseases out there. Get screened and try to prevent illness. The more you’re aware and understand what you need to do, the better chance you have of avoiding disease. And helping others avoid it, too.

Social platforms: spread disease awareness

HealthWellNext, a thought leadership publication, has created a social platform called HealthAwareNext to spotlight and educate around disease months throughout the year. They refer to it as “A Year of Disease Awareness.”

The goal of HealthAwareNext is to educate and drive awareness about disease states. Each month will feature impactful call-to-action content showcasing unique graphics that not only grab attention but educate as well, with real-world information on screening and testing for that month’s condition. The content will be spread via as well as through the social media platforms Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. The hashtags #HealthAwareNext and #YearofDiseaseAwareness, as well as disease-specific hashtags, will drive to relevant content.

HealthAwareNext started in January by focusing on cervical health, followed by heart health in February. March was dedicated to vision health and colon cancer awareness. April put a spotlight on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and May highlights mental health and stroke. When 2015 ends, it will be with a collection of disease month assets that are as informative as they are visually arresting, and that provide always welcome attention for these diseases. The ultimate goal is to get people to take charge of their health – and make prevention a year-round activity.

Elizabeth Elfenbein

May 20, 2015

Diabetes. Heart Disease. Obesity. These are three preventable conditions that millions of Americans are living with today. Is misinformation or lack of information the cause? Are they educated but lack motivation to take necessary precautions? Each day people make numerous decisions that have a tremendous impact on their overall health. As health industry marketers, our job is to give them the right information, support, and inspiration to help them make judicious decisions to live healthy lives and prevent chronic conditions, when possible.

According to the CDC, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are among the top diseases that are the most preventable. “Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations (other than those caused by injury), and new cases of blindness among adults.” One would think these consequences could provide enough motivation to make healthy choices, yet millions of Americans continue to be diagnosed because they fail to take action. Unfortunately, the number of cases keeps rising year-after-year. Fortunately, we can break the cycle and reverse the trend.

Knowing the facts & their future

The American Academy of Family Physicians stated that patient education and filling prescriptions have about the same impact on health outcomes. Our responsibility is to provide the necessary information patients need to understand the impact of these conditions, steps to prevent them and the difficult future they may experience living with these conditions if precautions are not taken. Empowering patients to act now, by taking steps to wellness, starts with education. Pharmaceutical brand marketers, health content developers, and healthcare providers must work together to create expert disease prevention content. But what is the right time and method to make an impact? The encounter must be highly engaging personal experiences filled with emotion, and distributed through key platforms for easy access by patients.

Support through connections
After educating patients and instilling motivation, the next step is ensuring prolonged commitment to health. This can be accomplished by creating connections between people through online communities and social groups. In a recent Remedy Heath Media study, 7 in 10 people said they were motivated by others to take an action such as eating healthier, exercising regularly, and getting a routine physical. It’s pretty amazing how contagious good health decisions become when surrounded by other like-minded individuals. Plus, there is the opportunity to make new friends who will push you when you need it most.

Through online outlets, health experts such as Amy Hendel (The Health Gal) – physician assistant, nutritionist, and health coach – provide connections for people needing support with their weight-loss, nutrition and fitness goals. These experts give people a sense of belonging and that they are not alone – they have somebody to turn to for trustworthy insights, advice, and guidance – keeping them focused and on track.

Other connections can be made through health and wellness social groups, like the one my wife started last year by connecting with neighbors, exercising together and sharing healthy family eating habits, grocery shopping, fitness tips, and more. Not only did it build a community focused on health and wellness, it created a support system sustaining their commitment. When a member of our wellness group cannot attend meetings the group reaches out and rallies together to ensure they remain engaged. Yes, peer pressure is still alive and well… but for good reason.

Remarkable health heroes spark inspiration

We have found that people become empowered through emotional storytelling. Remedy’s research indicates that among respondents who were highly motivated by emotional storytelling, 90% felt inspired after hearing an emotionally charged personal story.

To spark motivation, sites such as are developing emotional marketing programs including Be Well, Be Brave™, which captures the spirit of being brave by challenging themselves to lead a healthy life. Be Well, Be Brave™ presents emotional personal stories of everyday health heroes, who, despite huge hurdles, made important choices needed to live well. These stories depict the real-life transformations of people taking charge of their health. In turn, they inspire others to take action. The health hero’s story are chronicled in a long-form multi-media experience with video and text infused with expert supporting content – buying guides, diet and fitness plans – providing support, inspiration, and engagement for others to go above and beyond what they thought possible.

Whether it’s connecting online, through a social group, or via emotional storytelling, people need to spark their motivation to live healthier. That motivation comes from being educated, not just about where they are today, but what their future holds if changes aren’t made. Motivation will drive action and ultimately lead to a more healthy life, without the worry of preventable conditions. Remember, today the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, and obesity is climbing year-after-year; but by working together, our mission is to break this cycle, stop the trend, and reverse these growing numbers.

Ryan LeMonier