Conker season coming up – Prepare your weapons


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Storytelling has been with us for centuries – and we’re still doing it now – even in the pharmaceutical world. ‘Hwaet’ is the first written word in the English language. It starts the epic poem Beowulf and roughly translated means ‘Oi!’

Various Old English scholars would have us believe that ‘Hwaet’ (which rhymes with cat) means ‘Lo’, ‘Hear/Listen’, ‘Behold’ or ‘So’. I’m not sure about this. They all sound way too poetic for a hairy drunk Saxon (or Angle, or Jute or whatever it was) to be bellowing across a crowded Meadhall. Surely a storyteller wanting to grab their audience’s attention would have preferred to use something rather more basic and guttural. Something like ‘Oi’! (Preferably delivered in a Ray Winstone-style bark.)

1300 years on and in the heroic and mythical world of pharmaceutical communications we’re still trying to grab attention and tell stories – though not so often about dragon-slaying or Grendel-slaughtering. Much more likely, we are trying to tell our audience something special about our product or service. I rather like the idea of beginning a pharmaceutical sales flow in a Beowulf vernacular:

Oi! Let me tell you of the days when SafeShield (insert product name of choice here) destroyed all opposition with its unbeatable efficacy and brought low the hated enemy with its immaculate safety profile’.

OK, so it’s unfortunate that that sort of language might just run into a degree or two of difficulty with the regulatory authorities…possibly. Yet the storytelling principal remains the same. Whatever the tale we are telling, we need to make sure it’s interesting and exciting. That it’s engaging and easy to understand. And importantly, that it draws an emotional response from the audience. Indeed, the audience must believe that listening to the story we tell them will make a difference to their lives. That’s not so different from the storytellers from days of yore, is it?

Getting the copy right, from the product promise held within the strapline to the full sales story held within a sales aid, is as important as getting the campaign visual right. In an ideal world, both the visual expression of a campaign and its attendant copy should work hand-in-hand to deliver a brand promise that resonates with the target audience and is strong enough to grab and hold their attention.

Many a beautifully designed piece of advertising or marketing collateral has been ruined with poorly composed copy. Many a sales pitch has faltered under the onslaught of un-engaging facts and figures. This needn’t be the case: far from it. With careful thought, creativity, boldness and a thesaurus at hand, even the most seemingly mundane information can have real life breathed into it.

So please don’t forget to craft a good story when you are next telling people about your products and services. Create a little mystery. Inject some emotional links. Generate some genuine excitement. English is an amazing language and we should make use of all of its power and variety to help tell our pharmaceutical tales. After all, everyone likes a good read – and if you can find a pharmaceutical version of ‘Oi!’ to get the story going, then so much the better.

‘Get on it!’ as Big Ray would say.

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