Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Creative Pharma Packaging Design: Where Is It Needed?

Guy Mastrion (@gmastrion) over at Pixels & Pills Blog took offense when a colleague "bemoaned the conservative design of most Pharma packaging" and said it was "inevitable since Pharma was a 'Creative Ghetto.'" [See "Breaking Out of the Creative Ghetto."]

Now, you know, whenever someone mentions creativity and pharma or pharma marketing in the same sentence, I get out my blogging pistol.

When ads like those for Rozerem win awards for creativity but do not help ROI, I am especially annoyed (see "Rozerem Ads Dis Lincoln, Show Beaver", "MM&M Award Winners Announced at Gala NY Event!", and "Another Award for Rozerem! This one...not so good.").

But creativity in package design? Guy throws out a challenge to come up with something better than the traditional pharmacy pill bottle shown in its ghetto habitat in the photo on the left/above.

First of all, consumers do not buy prescription drugs like they do packaged goods. I don't walk up and down drug store aisles to chose my diuretic. Packaging, therefore, plays no role whatsoever in the process of fulfilling my prescription.

However, there is an area where packaging plays a role in pharmaceutical marketing: free samples given away at doctors' offices. I contend that there is much creative thought that goes into the design of these packages (ie, "starter kits"). You won't see any awards, however, for creative starter kit designs.

If you want to see creative packaging, you should look at over-the-counter meds, especially those that used to be branded drugs like Alli. These are placed in prominent positions on drug store shelves with snazzy point-of-sale displays and packaging (see "I Opt-Out of My alli Challenge!").

So, don't bemoan pharma package design -- where it counts, package design is an investment that pharma makes. Whether it is good design or not is another matter.


  1. As a former drug rep who gave out thousands of free samples to doctor's offices and as someone who now works at a packaging design agency, I think I have a unique view of this topic.

    First, you're right, consumers don't buy prescription drugs like they do other CPGs and the pharmacist who sees the bulk bottle behind the counter isn't going to be swayed by packaging. However, consumers do decide WHERE to buy those drugs. They opportunity to increase market share through packaging design exists for retailers. Target knows this and that why they've made their bottles more consumer friendly. A minimal investment (compared to advertising budgets) is still producing great PR years after it was developed.

    Pharma has opportunities too and your right that they exists in sample packs. However, I'd say that this is an investment that pharma makes... sometimes.

    On the bad side, I've seen many sample packs that are stock pill bottles about the size of a D battery. Sometimes these meds are targeted at the elderly. They can't open them! Doctors hear the complaints from their patients and stop handing them out.

    On the good side, is packaging that helps the doctor explain to the patient how, when and why to take their medication. These samples fly off the shelves. Drug reps can use the packaging to explain the medication to doctors, instead of a usually poorly design sales binder. Doctors use it when talking to patients. All of the important information the patients needs to know is right in front of them. Patients don't have to remember everything the doctor told them. Finally, if its designed right, it can increase patient compliance, a major problem in the pharma industry.

    It's not easy to hit all of the touch points (reps, docs and patients) but when it done right, it can be a home run.


  2. For transparency, I also commented at Pills & Pixels on the original post from @gmastrion. I respect his underlying challenge to improve pharma packaging design and hope to see an up tick in the near future.

    And, while I agree with you that packaging plays no role in the process of filling a prescription, why would a pharma company abdicate any opportunity to drive brand loyalty, which often starts with colors, logos and design and ultimately fosters adherence and compliance?

    Significant money is already invested in designing packaging for Rx products that never gets to the end user. Package design ceases to be relevant with the pharmacist who opens/discards the packaging in order to count out 10 or 30 pill increments to be shoveled into a non-descript, brown vial. This current system seems illogical, at best.

    The standing argument is the number of SKUs or dosing variations are why we get prescriptions in plain brown wrappings. But, maybe building in some forethought in product design/R&D would address this, allowing for true brand differentiation from the very first prescription. On an elementary level it’s been done for decades with birth control pills and evolved into Pfizer's Z-pak and Novartis' Elidel. As both consumer and healthcare communicator, I’d like more Rx brands to start building recognition from the first consumer touch at the pharmacist counter.

  3. Well said, Marian.

    The 'standing argument' might work for some acute illnesses but when the patient suffers from a chronic condition and is taking medication in monthly doses, the argument just doesn't work.

    One area where help has been needed for a while and maybe where the biggest opportunity lies is in diabetes. Patients have been blogging about bad packaging since 2007 (

    I don't think it's a stretch to think that well design packaging that focuses on improving patient compliance and satisfaction could result in increased market share for pharma companies, improved patient health and overall reduced medical costs.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...