The Dutch consumer interests television show Radar recently presented a very interesting story about symptom marketing. In the Netherlands it is forbidden to advertise subscription medicine. Companies try to circumvent the regulations by not promoting the medicine, but by promoting the symptom it cures. Symptom marketing aims to have people realize they have a symptom, have them think it is a decease that requires treatment and have them go to a doctor to ask for a treatment. The Radar team demonstrated how this works using the symptom of flatulence (the presence of excessive gas in the digestive tract which generally causes farting).
The strategy works as follows:
- Promote the symptom under consumers
- Promote the medicine under health professionals
- The consumer will go to his doctor for help
- The doctor subscribes the medicine that comes first to mind
The following steps were taken:
- A fake company is found, specialized in PR and consultancy to act on behalf of ‘a pharmaceutical client’
- A well known public opinion research firm (TNS NIPO) is asked to investigate the problem of flatulence and is asked to produce evidence of the problem. This company is generally considered trustworthy. The research firm promotes the findings of their research and attracts attention to the problem.
- A website is found addressing the issue of flatulence called ‘het lucht op‘ (which means something like ‘it relieves’). The site contains a self test which basically almost always results in the advise to discuss your ‘problem’ with a heath professional.
- Promotion material for the symptom is displayed in the health professional’s practices.
- A press release is sent out to all kinds of media. Many mention the problem or even create a whole news item. Did you know many people regularly feel an urge to fart? Other media are contacted and offer to give the issue attention at relatively low cost (20k for 15 minutes on TV)
As a result the website got 5000 visitors in a few hours and 3300 visitors filled in the self test. The original broadcast can be found on the Dutch website of Radar, under ‘Uitzending 31-08-2009’. To summarize, although possibly illegal (under Dutch law), with a very limited budget a lot of attention can be drawn to the symptom and indirectly to the medicine. Probably perfectly legal, it would be interesting to apply a similar strategy to other products!