Thursday, July 24, 2008

How PhRMA’s Marketing Code Sells Itself

When it comes to marketing, packaging counts.

That also seems to be the case with marketing guidelines--at least, with the revised Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

We've written a lot already about what the substantive changes to the code itself means, including its compliance mechanism, and new limits on pens, meals, speakers and CME. We’ve even offered three easy steps companies can take next to achieve a utopian future.

But beyond the message PhRMA is sending though the content of the code, there’s the image the association is projecting through the formatting of document itself. The precepts in the revised code are basically a progression from the 2002 code, but the layout is stunningly different.
The most obvious change to the code’s formatting is the color palette and design motifs. The blocks of black and red had been replaced by blues and grays in spiral patterns. What do those changes mean?

Well, we asked some of our designers their opinions. Overall, the design of the 2002 code is “forceful” and intense, they tell us, while the 2008 code is relaxed, though still “peppy.”

The new document also tones down PhRMA’s self branding. In the old version, the association’s acronym was the biggest thing on the cover page, and it towered over every question in the Q&A section. In contrast, the PhRMA logo only appears three times in the new version. Those changes may reflect an industry that now feels its size and strength make it a target for criticism. Blue is also a “loyalty color,” we are told, and the new code may in fact be bathed in Patone’s “Dispense As Written Azul.” The 2008 version also boasts a table of contents – how’s that for transparency?

Another formatting change may be evidence of industry belt tightening. Even though it contains more words, the page count of the 2008 code is 36 pages, while the old one weighed in at 58. Like marketing departments everywhere, it’s doing more with less.

Despite the reduced page count, the text in the revised version is larger and more readable than the previous version, but it uses a sans-serif font. While clean and easy to look at, a sans-serif font (like Helvetica) does not fit with the eye the way a serif font (like Times) does. According to the experts, when reading large amounts of text, people are better able to absorb it if it comes with the complex features at the tops and bottoms of the character strokes.

If that’s not an endorsement of industry’s shift towards biotech products, we don’t know what is.

M. Nielsen Hobbs

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