What brand is your disease?
By Haris Silic
Issue 6 Winter 2010
More and more, going for a doctor’s visit resembles going to a department store. The doctors are very busy and have very little time for you, but they will do their best to be nice. You tell him or her what is ailing you, and they come back with a beautifully packaged box of samples, of medicines that is. Pills of all colors, shapes and sizes. You leave thinking, “I can’t wait to showcase my new disorder!”
This may seem exaggerated, but after reading How to brand a disease — and sell a cure, I am afraid this example is not far from reality. According to Dr. Carl Elliott, Bioethics Professor at the University of Minnesota, pharmaceutical companies have created conditions (diseases) where their drugs can literally sell themselves. They have borrowed this philosophy of creating desire for a product from Godfather of public relations Edward Bernays. In the 1920s, Bernays had to sell pianos. He was very successful at this because he sold the idea that affluent homes needed to have a music room. Once they had a music room built in their house, they would naturally buy a piano for it. It worked like magic – he designed an environment of desire where the product sold itself.
Dr. Carl Elliott argues that pharmaceutical companies take quite rare and maybe benign conditions and brand them into diseases. He lists two sorts of conditions as excellent candidates: “shameful condition that can be destigmatized” such as overactive bladder and “under-diagnosed” conditions such as “social anxiety disorder.” He concludes that branding diseases would not be so bad (after all everything else around us is branded) if it wasn’t for harmful side effects of these drugs. This is what really caught my attention.
What role do we as designers, and brand managers play in this process?
What would happen if one of our clients was part of Big Pharma, and asked us to create a brand for a drug that we knew had detrimental side effects? What would you do?