The Unexpected Patient Engagement Solution: Humor Marketing

Pharmaceutical commercials often present viewers with two ends of the emotional spectrum: gray melancholy and a hopeful euphoria. But what if there’s a third option to employ? Humor marketing is a creative patient engagement solution and an unsung hero. 


Humor can tackle heavy subjects and package them in a way that's more palatable for patients while still staying true to real patient experiences.

Combatting fear and shame with humor marketing

The conditions patients face are not funny, they’re anxiety-inducing, exhausting, and sometimes embarrassing. 


Humor cuts through fear and uncertainty.


That’s why people joke about death and satirize harrowing events. Humor is a coping mechanism. You don’t want to make fun of, say, a chronic illness, but you can inject a bit of levity into your commercials to take the edge off.


As for those who experience shame because of their condition(s), seeing a lighthearted commercial of a character dealing with the same pesky symptoms can normalize them.

Rozerem's humorous approach to insomnia

Take insomnia for instance. Being unable to fall asleep or remain asleep for a substantial amount of time is a detriment to one’s health and quality of life.


Insomniacs likely don’t want a commercial showing a miserable protagonist tossing around in bed. They already know what the disorder feels like, they understand its pernicious effects. Maybe they even fear they'll never regulate their sleep. 


So how can you capture their attention? Leverage humor.


Humor marketing in pharma isn’t new, but it’s underutilized. 


In a nearly two-decade old Rozerem commercial, “Your Dreams Miss You,” a tired insomniac sits at the kitchen table with characters that appear in his dreams: Abraham Lincoln, a beaver, and a scuba diver. 


The protagonist says he’s stressed from work, preventing quality sleep. Lincoln tells him that insomnia is common (again, normalization), the beaver chiming in with stats to make the protagonist feel less alone. 


“When you can’t sleep, you can’t dream,” the narrator of the commercial says. Rozerem is introduced as the solution. 


It’s not a “laugh out loud” kind of funny, but it still sits in humor marketing territory, stepping outside of the stereotypical pharma ad box to attract patients and boost engagement. 

Inspire uses humor as a patient engagement solution

One pharma brand currently taking advantage of humor marketing is Inspire. One of its latest sleep apnea commercials is set in what looks like a bedroom from the 70s. It stars an older couple, the husband suffering from sleep apnea.


With Inspire's implant, the husband’s sleep improves so much that he says he’s been thinking about “doing other things [he’s] been putting off.” The camera pans to his unamused wife in bed. She says, “like removing the tattoo of your first wife’s name?”


It’s the last story you’d expect to see from a pharma brand. It doesn't fit the traditional pharma ad archetype, which makes it more relatable and accessible. It appeals to patients by acknowledging the hardships they face without languishing over them. 


Patients struggling with sleep apnea are not alienated by the commercial. It empathizes with them rather than pitying them.


MM+M quotes Paula Maki, executive creator director at space150: “Humor is empathy and it’s the truth. If you can laugh or even say, ‘That’s me,’ you are relating to something that millions of people have in common.”


Even the campaign slogan, “No mask. No hose. Just sleep." blends humor and understanding, as if saying in a light way, "We see your struggles with CPAPs, we know what you need, and we have the solution." It's simple and genius. 


By injecting humor into your pharma brand's world it becomes more approachable to patients, rather than sterile and impersonal.

Harnessing humor as a patient engagement solution goes beyond creating brand awareness. Humor marketing can cultivate a sustained interest in your pharma brand, driving patients to search for more information, whether from your website or from their doctor.


Making a patient laugh might be just the thing needed for your brand to become top of mind.

Create personalized, omnichannel experiences that leverage humor with STORYSOFT's digital storytelling platform. Learn more.

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