This third episode of “Marketing Truths” highlights why creativity is even more crucial if a category is seen as dull or typically leans on rational persuasion.

This builds on the first episode, which focused on the importance of effectiveness over efficiency, and the second episode, which explored the greater marketing impact delivered by having a strong brand. In this episode of WARC’s Marketing Truth series, Ann Marie Kerwin, Americas Editor, and Jim DeLash, GSK, marketing director for GSK, Vaccines, US, discuss the importance of an organization embracing creativity’s power. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Ann Marie Kerwin: Welcome to the WARC podcast. I'm Ann Marie Kerwin, America's editor at WARC, and this is the third in our podcast series, Marketing Truths. Here at WARC, we've been advocates for marketing effectiveness for more than three decades. And what we found, thanks to numerous research studies, is there is a set of principles of marketing effectiveness that have been proven again and again to work. This week, we're exploring our third marketing truth, which is that creativity supercharges marketing's impact.

In this episode, we'll be talking about how creative excellence correlates closely with effective campaigns. So, in the short run, creatively awarded campaigns grab attention and generate fame at twice the level of non-awarded campaigns. In the long run, creatively awarded campaigns are more likely to convince people the brand is better quality, thus reducing price sensitivity and creating connections between the brands and consumers.

These links between creativity and effectiveness are enabled by the greater use of emotion in creatively awarded campaigns. Emotional campaigns are strongly linked to effectiveness with effective campaigns scoring higher on positive emotions such as enjoyment and involvement. But it's also true that other emotional responses like empathy, fear and surprise cause people to remember what they viewed. So my guest today is Jim DeLash, Omnichannel Marketing Director at GSK.

Thank you for joining me today, Jim.

Jim DeLash: Hi, Ann Marie. Thanks for having me. I'm real excited to talk about one of my favorite topics, creativity in advertising and marketing. I just can't get enough of this stuff.

Ann Marie: I'm so glad that you're here with me. So tell me how you got started in advertising and marketing and what you're doing now.

Jim DeLash: I started way back in the catalog business actually, and it gave me a great foundation for testing and learning about creative in print ads or in direct mail and catalogs that you could measure very quickly and accurately. And then I moved into publishing and applied the same kind of principles to magazine circulation and bookselling directly to customers at Rodale. And then I moved into pharmaceuticals about 20 years ago, actually with GSK, and have evolved into a different kind of analytics and digital roles. But in the last half of my time at GSK, it's been on the marketing and creative side of driving creative agencies and media agencies to work together to develop an emotional response, generating advertising for both healthcare professionals, patients and consumers.

Ann Marie: Pharma is a category that not a lot of people think of leading with creativity. The Grand Prix winners at Cannes tend to be more the McDonald's of the world or the AB InBevs, which are definitely more fun categories of advertising. How do you see creativity's role in pharma marketing?

Jim DeLash: I think it's the same as it is in any other industry. It’s just that we have more regulations, but many industries have regulations. I attend marketing events and many people from different companies will say, we had this great idea, but legal had to review it. And they're not in pharmaceuticals. They're in some other industry, almost any other industry. So I think sometimes we impose these limitations on ourselves because of the industry that we're in. But I think emotional advertising is as important and maybe more so in pharmaceuticals as it is in any other industry.

Ann Marie: Here at WARC, we've been talking a lot about this new research project that was recently done by System One and the strategic consultancy, Eat Big Fish, and marketing effectiveness guru Peter Field. And the study found that dull ads actually cost marketers more money. Dull was described as a failure to obtain an emotional response. In the US, those dull ads cost $228 billion more in extra spending from US advertisers to achieve the share growth that you would have gotten if they had used an impactful ad. So given that pharma has a terrible reputation of having to deal with the things that the consumers see as dull, what are your thoughts about that?

Jim DeLash: I'm a big fan of that study. I think Adam Morgan's stuff is really good. I mean, Peter Field, too, Les Binet, all those guys are just great in the work that they've done. But the particular dull study really connected with what I think about what we do, where we've learned all along if the ads that we're running – and I'm talking now about marketing to physicians primarily – but it applies to consumers, too. If the ads we're running are dull by that definition, we need much more frequency to get the response that we need, which is kind of what this study also was saying. And we've talked about that for years. The irony is the better the ad, the less you need to run it, where you would think you'd want to run it more so more people can see it. But you do expand to reach that, so there's a benefit. But we know that these ads are more typical pharma and we get talked into stuff sometimes by our review teams. It's not their fault. It's marketing's fault because all of a sudden we have messages that are of many different topics, which makes them duller because you can't, like, emphasize one point, which means now you've gotta keep running these ads more and more. And I think that is, that's not, you might eventually get to the goal, but it feels like almost under duress as opposed to under desire, you know, like the audience finally gives in and will click on something or go to a website or do something that we've been hoping it would do. It'd be a lot easier if we just had better ads to begin with.

Ann Marie: I can see that. I can see the trouble of trying to get something through a legal team as opposed to somebody who's thinking about it from a marketing point of view.

Jim DeLash: Well, just on that point, if I can just add to that, it's interesting. Over the years, what I've noticed is our medical, legal, and regulatory team reviews every creative submission. And over the years, they've gotten better at work. We are getting better. They are getting better at working together. So they're not the enemy, they're not trying to reduce sales or anything. They're very collaborative and they understand it. And many more times than not, they will say, all right, you can't say it this way, but you can try this way. And they'll give us some alternatives. Most of the time, the response from those review teams is not about a legal issue or a medical claim or something because we know those rules. It's more about a subjective feeling of, hey, this might really upset doctors if you say it this way. And what we've got to coach the marketing teams to get better at is, yeah, that's the whole idea. We're going to upset some of them, but that's because they're not protecting enough patients by vaccinating them against a certain goal. And if some get upset by that, then so be it. More and more we'll get the attention and the emotional response that we're looking for saying, ‘Oh my God, that's me. I didn't realize I should be vaccinating more’ or whatever the goal is. So we've gotten much more collaborative and a better working relationship with the review teams, which will eventually, and now even, lead to better creative that will have more impact.

Ann Marie: That's so interesting, that the emotional response or the emotion that you're causing being the issue, because I think when most people think of emotional ads, they think it's just the ones that make you feel happy or enjoyable, but there's lots of emotional responses that get people to react. And I remember you were telling me about how sometimes tapping into those other emotions is more powerful for the message you're trying to get across.

Jim DeLash: I'm working in vaccine marketing now and it's a preventative product like insurance or some things you take to ensure your safety down the road. That can be a hard sell because much of pharmaceutical advertising is dealing with a certain condition you have that you want to treat. Here it's trying to prevent it. So the natural emotion that you go to is fear. You know, how do I kind of scare people? And we've had success with that. One of our products deals with meningitis B, which is a rare disease, but it's debilitating. It can cause loss of limb, even death. And so one of the ways we approach that emotionally is to have survivors or survivors' families come onto either a webinar, or we use them in a video of some kind, or in print to tell their story about how they wish they would have acted and protected their daughter or son who then got meningitis B and had some kind of catastrophic reaction. So we can get that emotional story. I mean, we've had these survivors come to our sales meetings and the room is in tears when they tell their story. So we were able to convert that into an advertising message that I think really does connect with the audience and helps them. One of the things we hear from physicians is if they don't see the disease, especially a rare one, they're much less inclined to take any action. It's kind of out of sight out of mind. So when you can show them these stories and tell them these stories of the effects of this, even though it's rare, if you're the one that gets it, it's not rare. You can't predict it. So why take the chance? I don't want to get into a sell message there, but that's the way we try to approach it and make the emotional plea, the fear of 'don't let this happen to your patients' is the lead message in what we're doing.

Ann Marie: One of the aspects of the dull study was that the functional and rational messaging was less likely to move consumers or in this case, physicians to take action, whereas the more creative techniques were better at capturing attention and better to get a response from the person you're trying to get to change or take an action.

Jim DeLash: I had this theory that if you look at the product maturity curve, the early adopters will respond best – at least in physician marketing – respond best to the logic, the data, the clinical information, that'll get the early adopters and they see the clinical benefit. But as you start to go up the curve into the early majority and late majority and that big bell shape, that's where emotion really has to come into play because they've not already considered this vaccine. So that gets a small part of the market. The biggest part comes from the emotional connection that you can then make and say, here's why you need to respond to this. And at the same time, if it's a big enough brand that can also run direct-to-consumer advertising, then you have that emotional connection with the consumer, matched with emotional connection to the physician, then the stories kind of fit together nicely. So when the patient goes to the doctor, ‘hey, tell me a little bit about this disease, and I heard there's a vaccine,’ they both have that same emotional connection at that time. There is something to do with the maturity curve where emotion becomes more important the further into the curve that you go.

Ann Marie: One of the things we do at WARC, which we've done through our “Building a Culture of Creative Effectiveness” report is hammer home the idea that it's so important that throughout an organization, you understand the role of creativity and what it's doing for your marketing. Can you talk a little bit about how you've worked to get the idea of emotional ads and creativity through the organization working with your partners and internally.

Jim DeLash: We have an annual marketing conference, an internal marketing conference that I've presented a couple times at, and we also have monthly events that I've presented at. So I've used the creative effectiveness ladder, I've used a couple of chapters in that story and then give examples. And I've talked about the creative or the campaign brief and we've revised that process. And I've done other talks on just creativity in general and how creativity is a factor and how important it is. Typically in pharmaceutical, you end up with a blockbuster product that takes over everything. It can drive a lot of business for a while and then eventually you need the creative to get to the next stage. We're finding ourselves in many more competitive marketplaces where you try to differentiate the product on not just clinical data, but also emotional and creative messaging too. Every year I send out the latest John Lewis Christmas ad to the team and ask, ‘Hey, did you cry during this one?’ Every year I get it and cry, it's just a way to kind of subtly reinforce the importance of creativity. And I've told the John Lewis story internally many times about how competitive their situation was in 2009 and losing sales and emotional creativity just changed everything for them and they just went skyrocketing up in sales over the next 10 years. And people really seem to respond to that and get it. And so it's a combination of like big events throughout the year a couple of times and then ongoing sort of subtle just little reminders of, hey, this is a cool ad with a creative that got a response for this reason.

Ann Marie: I remember hearing from McDonald's that one of the things they did was change their brief to agencies to create what they call the ‘feel’ brief, like how is this ad going to make consumers feel? That was the top of their brief. And I know you've talked about the importance of working on the brief. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Jim DeLash: One of the presentations I gave at our marketing conference a couple of years ago was, I called it the ‘Isosceles Project’ because the base of the project was the brief, but it also led to new analytics and new levels of experimentation. So I didn't want to just leave the brief hanging by itself, but our brief process, we revamped it. And it starts now with what we call a campaign brief, which I like the idea of a ‘feel brief.’ That's a cool idea. But our campaign brief is very specific in eight or 10 different categories of information that's being provided to the agency. And it's both the creative and the media agency and actually the analytics and database agencies as well. So it's directed to all of them because the response to that brief is something that I call ‘words and music’ brief. It's a fun thing, but ‘words and music’ is a euphemism for media and creative working together. So the response to the campaign brief is a ‘words and music’ brief, which is the concept, the creative concept, why it will achieve the goal, but also the media or the channels in which it's going to run. It might just say, print, let's say print journals or something. It doesn't have to specify which ones, although that's helpful because we know the mindset of the audience is very different depending on which channel they're consuming the information on. So if we're going to go heavy emotional, we might want to stay away from the ‘New England Journal of Medicine,’ for example, which tends to be more clinical. And ‘Nature’ will do a lot more video, a lot more putting ads on websites and things like that, that are designed to get that in the right emotional environment. So ‘words and music’ is really critical. Then we approve that. Then they develop the concept further and develop the media schedule. And then the agency will take it and run whatever briefs they need to run internally to develop all the content. But that was a process that started with the Better Briefs initiative from a couple of years ago that showed how there was this huge discrepancy between the way agencies viewed briefs and the way clients did. And it was like the same document, but 80% of the clients thought it was great and 10% of the agencies thought it was great. I was like, there's something wrong here so we've got to try to fix that because I'm sure it's true for others, it was true for us too.

Ann Marie: I'm interested in you saying the ‘words and music’ brief brings media and creativity together because I'm hearing from a lot of marketers that there's this need to re-engage media and creative. How do you see those teams working?

Jim DeLash: That’s the essence of what the ‘words and music’ initiative was a couple years ago. And it's a long and winding road to get there because sometimes it's the agencies are not sure who's in charge and who can make the decisions. But we really have to, we have to force it more. It was one of the fallouts from all the agency holding companies buying up all these agencies and they split off media and creative. I think media took the approach, especially with digital and all the data, it's much more of a quantitative exercise than ever before. And I was worried about that because while that's important, this goes to what I think the first episode in this series was about, effectiveness and efficiency. I'm a big believer in effectiveness first and efficiency second. The ads and the campaign need to be really effective, and then you can then become efficient. I don't think it can work the other way around. And I think a lot of media is about optimizing and optimizing at the micro level. I’m not really interested in that because that's not going to change the business, especially in our business that I'm in right now, marketing to physicians. They're not going to make a quick decision. So if I'm talking to you today about the benefits of our vaccine and you should start using it, there's a very small chance you're going to go, ‘oh sure, where do I sign?’ It's a process over time. So we start measuring things more to get to the cumulative effect of what we're doing. And that's where the mix of channels and creative really comes into play. So I'm not interested in open rates on emails or click-through rates on banners. That stuff doesn't matter because a lot of times people are still affected by the message without taking any action. In the end, I want to see, are they getting to the website to view certain content? Are they talking to sales reps as much as they used to or more? And ultimately, of course, it's sales. But these lead indicators don't have to be as precise as I think the media agencies have been heading toward.

Ann Marie: So I know a lot of marketers, when they start down this road of building a culture of creative effectiveness, find that there are a lot of hurdles. There's a lot of internal selling that has to happen. What are the hurdles you have run into as you've been working on this within a pharma environment?

Jim DeLash: It's funny, there are hurdles internally and externally. It's not all that different. And it's just more about a comfort level because I think most people agree when we start talking about the importance of creativity and emotional response and ‘words and music’ and all these things, everybody agrees. I'm just not sure that they're committed to taking the time yet to put the effort in because it's a little bit of an unknown where there are a lot of other things that the teams typically work on which have more of a track record. It's pretty reliable what the results are going to be compared to when you're starting to do something different. But that's why one of the angles in the Isosceles Triangle is about experimentation. You need to open up your mind and say, ‘Look, I don't know if this is going to work by changing the mix of channels for this message, but I can sure test it to find out.’ One of the things we've learned is our media mix models tend to show impact by each channel on performance. But I don't think that's accurate because that's like the problem with attribution models is the last action gets all the credit. And that's not what we want. It's the cumulative effect of all this stuff. The example I use is social media. That's a whole different creative area, different requirements. Is it effective or not? The only way to truly find out is to run half the campaign with social media and half the campaign without and see the difference. And the accounting, they've got additional cost, but maybe you get additional benefit. A model's not gonna show you that, you have to test it. People are a little bit nervous about that. And it's more time, it takes more time to do it. But I think the benefits are there. It's kind of that self-imposed barrier. We don't really have barriers with our review teams or sometimes setting up a measurement plan. It's not really a barrier, but it's another time-consuming thing that you really have to think through. Vaccines used to be a simple business. You sold doses of the vaccine into the physician's office, they used it or didn't use it or whatever. Well, now a lot of people, anybody over 65, can get vaccinated at a pharmacy and have it covered by Medicare. So that's great. And it's perfect for the consumers. It just makes the analysis more difficult for us on the data side because it's harder to get that data. So now the decision-making is a little bit trickier. If you think about a lot of stuff up front, you can plan for it. You also don't need to be super precise. You need a direction that, hey, I'm trying something here. And if you have a belief that this is really going to emotion is going to get what we need in response, you can set up a measurement plan. It's time. It's managing our time is really the biggest barrier.

Ann Marie: The length of time is difficult when you're brand building versus that quick response that you get from the email opens or something like that. I'm very interested in how you approach this dual audience that you have, both the doctors and the consumers, because that's sort of a B2B versus B2C split. How have you used creativity to reach those two different audiences?

Jim DeLash: There's a couple of points to that. We've started to use a lot more connected TV in targeting physicians. So we know physicians, they see the same ads on TV that our consumers do, but now we target them specifically maybe with certain ads, and then we can measure that. And it's been really effective. So it's, and when I say that, it's an effective add-on to what we're doing. That's kind of the way I always look at things. Any one of these things by themselves impact but together the messaging really drives much better performance. So we're running TV ads and sometimes it's the same ad on connected TV and other times it's the same message but in different channels for the physician. So whatever the message is about the efficacy or prevalence of the condition or whatever it is, we say that same thing in the same way now to physicians and consumers. At the same time and that's showing some nice synergy there. And obviously for a physician you get much more into the clinical data in supporting evidence. The consumer just needs a little bit of that and they can certainly research it on their own but they're more likely to trust their physician. The whole goal there is get them in to talk to the physician and then educate the physician on the message as well. But we found that when we're talking about the product in the same kind of way it's better than if it's slightly different or this one's a 'hey we're talking to physicians, their clinical data or clinical way of approaching the creative is needed'. I'm not sure that's true either because we're still trying to get their attention and that's that rational versus emotional thing. It still works emotionally so when we keep the playing field the same for each group it has better impact, more impact.

Ann Marie: So as you've been on this journey of building out this effective marketing practice at GSK, what have you found to be most useful?

Jim DeLash: So what's most useful is the presentations, and sharing data and sharing studies from WARC, of course. I mean, my only complaint about WARC is there's so much great information, it's hard to sift through it all and use it all. But it's terrific information. And I will often share snippets of a study or a study with the team and just say, look, there's a new way to be thinking about effectiveness or frequency, whatever creativity, whatever the topics are. And I think that it's funny because I'm never quite sure if people read them or not because they don't often respond. But ultimately they do make comments later that tell me that they're paying attention. So it's good. Then it's up to them to kind of take it and apply it to their own part of the business. But also as I started presenting more at marketing conferences, it gave me a good way to step back and think about what we're doing. The presentations I give at conference, I don't specifically talk about GSK campaigns that we're working on, but just in general things that I've learned and researched about whatever the topic is. And then I can come back and apply that to the teams. And sometimes I've made the same presentation internally then, and that sparks some interest and gets them thinking a little bit. So it's ongoing. We're coming around to being more open to different ways of doing things. And especially when you get into hyper competitive markets, and I think branding – the other thing that I just wanted to mention, I know brand was the last episode – but I'm talking about branding now. In vaccines, it was never really a big issue. So like flu shots, you just get a flu shot, you don't even think about the brand, for the most part. Well, other vaccines, you know, it started with COVID, actually, Moderna or Pfizer, even though never sort of branded that vaccine. It's becoming more of a branding opportunity within more categories, which I think is a really good thing because then it's not just get this shot, but it's like, hey, this one has these benefits, this other one has these other benefits. What's the marketing effort to support that brand? And I think the more we talk about that stuff, I think it gets people to think a little bit differently about it. And we've had a lot of success doing that in the last year. So I hope that will spur more of that thinking as we continue to evolve. In pharmaceuticals, what's interesting is everybody knows in advance when a new product is coming because there's clinical trial data, there's investor meetings, there's ways that we know in two years the competitors coming out with a product and they know when we're doing it. So it's like you can plan for that a little bit. How do I accelerate what we're doing to take advantage of the market today, but then also be prepared by maybe building up the brand knowing that there's going to be a competitor in 2026. So it's up to us to now build that brand and build equity in it for what it stands for. One of the best ways to do that, of course, is through the creative messaging that you've come up with. And also, we're just starting to dabble in fluent devices and create characters. On our pediatric vaccines, we have these characters, they start off as babies, four to six month olds, and as they grow, we show next vaccines they need. They're used more to connect the dots of these series of vaccinations that kids get. And that's a good way to help kind of brand what our vaccines are, give them a little bit of an image. And we're gonna see more of that as we go forward.

Ann Marie: That's great. And you can definitely talk about brand now. That's fine. So what would you say would be your advice for marketers who are in categories that have the hurdle of having to talk about a topic that consumers may not want to think about?

Jim DeLash: What we do is there's a combination of awareness of the disease or the condition and then the solution. I was thinking about that and I thought, well, okay, you'd probably be rational with the awareness and emotional with the solution, but it could actually work the other way too. Start with a very emotional message about the condition. If you have this, this could be devastating. And here's the rational, logical solution. So I think we split those into two pieces and then it's more about, you may not want to talk about it, but you still have to educate people. And in our world, it's about prevention. So I need to educate you about what could happen, something you may not wanna think about. You may not want to think about shingles or something, but if you get vaccinated, you don't have to think about it. At least we have the opportunity to kind of prevent those kinds of things from happening. If you're treating a condition that people have, I think the approach is the same, though, explain what's the condition, why you need to take action and then remind people of the importance of staying on the prescription. You know, I forget the numbers now. It's been a while since I looked at this stuff, but the percentage of people who get their prescription filled is not 100 percent, it's way below that. And so, there's a lot of marketing that has to go on and remind you that there's an emotional reason why you need to stay healthy or get healthy, regardless of the condition. That's why health care is so privacy concerned and so important. It's like nobody wants to know, and should know, about anybody else's health concerns other than we're trying to help you address it or prevent it in whatever the case might be. So it's a perfect case for mixing emotional and rational thinking in whichever order makes sense based on the circumstances.

Ann Marie: That's great, thank you, Jim. And I'm so glad that you joined me today. This has been such a great conversation and I so enjoyed hearing about how you're thinking about applying creative effectiveness to pharma because I do think it's a category most people think of as almost being its own beast, right? But a lot of these effectiveness principles do apply. So thank you for helping us see that, I appreciate that.

Jim DeLash: Oh, I'm so glad to do this, Ann Marie. I enjoyed our conversation. And, you know, I think pharmaceutical marketing is not that different from other kinds of marketing, really. You're still trying to convince a group of people to take an action that you would like them to take. And, you know, we may have a few more regulations than other industries, but not as many as you might think. And I think the principles apply. So whatever we're learning, if we can share with other people in other industries, I think I think there's a benefit for everybody as we try to learn from other industries as well. It used to be, hey, what are the pharma companies doing this? What can we learn? Now it's beyond that. It's like, what can we learn from McDonald's or Coca Cola or somebody else? Because a lot of times those principles can apply. We're just trying to help people get healthier.

Ann Marie: Thank you so much for being with me, Jim. So up next in April, we'll be talking about our fourth marketing truth, maximize reach to achieve the greatest impact. We'll be talking about creative commitment and how the more people who see your messages, the more effective your campaigns will be. And for those listening, if you have examples of US companies that are doing great effective marketing and want to highlight that, or if you have an opinion on what works or doesn't work, we at WARC are eager to hear from you. I'm Ann Marie Kerwin, America's editor.

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