Attempting to Bolster Pharma Reputation Facebook Style
I saw an article in Medial Marketing & Media several weeks back entitled, “Boehringer's Pharma-ville could salve industry's bad reputation.” The article was about Syrum, an on-line game where the “objective is to save the world, one disease at a time.” According to their web site, “Syrum is a social game on Facebook which sees you take control of your very own pharmaceutical company. You’ll have to equip and use your laboratory to discover new drugs and bring them to market in order to increase global health.”
Great, but as we’re waiting for further updates, I’ve wondered who this was targeted to and if this was an effort to increase the industry’s reputation, a Facebook game that helps BI find a new audience, both or something else? Reading on, the article said the game could “help address the flagging reputation of the industry,” but John Pugh, BI’s head of on-line communications tried to clarify the intent and said, “The main objective is to create a kick-ass game… It's about pharma and fun."
Too bad. Is that all BI’s leadership wants to get out of this effort? I don’t have an argument with “kick-ass” (however that’s defined) but I wish the endeavor also included some real learning objectives. Engagement and goodwill are important, or course, but can something be taught? Can knowledge be used beyond the game experience? I'd love to hear more about what BI will be measuring.
It’s clear that we need better informed, more knowledgeable customers. How else can they value and trust what we do in research, development, approval and medical education? More knowledge leads to better outcomes. Better outcomes leads to better utilization. Better utilization leads to better satisfaction. Better satisfaction leads to more trust.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t be creative. I’ve said it before: we should use our talents and resources to develop a massive, sustained effort to enhance health and science literacy. When it comes to managing one’s health or the health of one’s family, most people don’t have enough knowledge to evaluate a medical product claim or even formulate the right questions to ask a healthcare provider. This deficit makes the public an easy target for anti-vaccination nonsense, and purveyors of alternative medicines and bogus devices.
If reputation building is a secondary consideration for BI, I suggest a revaluation of objectives because the industry needs all the help it can get. After inching up to 31 percent in the 2008 Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient survey, the numbers fell back to 29 percent in the latest results. In comparison, the technology industry scored 72 percent. Essentially, the scores are mirror images – as many don’t like the pharmaceutical industry as like the technology industry. Pretty sad, indeed.
Unfortunately, much of this reputational gloom is self-inflicted (price hikes, quality problems, data transparency, etc.) but other aspects are controlled by external factors (insurance coverage decisions, political agendas, alternative medicine claims, etc.). It’s complicated and it’s fluid. So, let’s control what we can control: behavior, ethics, standard operating procedures and, in this case, communication and education.
BI deserves credit for exploring the edutainment world. I signed up to receive updates on the Syrum web site and am eagerly await more news. However, I might be outside of their demographic because the cartoonish graphics and sound effects seem to trivialize the point. I hope upon its official launch that the substance, at least, is a little more realistic.
Between blog posts, you can follow me @pauloestreicher.