Abbott looks beyond product portfolio to generate trust and recall

The company’s new campaign revolves around care and management of diabetes
Abbott India is among the biggest advertisers in its sector in India. Given the severe restrictions that curb direct advertising and promotional activities with consumers in the pharmaceutical sector, the company has been treading carefully around the rules to build its identity around therapies and common ailments rather than the medicines it sells.  

Abbott operates in India through two entities, the unlisted Abbott Healthcare Ltd apart from  the listed entity Abbott India Ltd (AIL). AIL is the fastest growing MNC drug firm here. 

The latest campaign by Abbott deals with diabetes, a chronic disease that has spread like an epidemic in the country. Even though the company is not very active in the anti-diabetic therapy segment the entire campaign revolves around the disease and its management, indicating perhaps that this may be an area of focus in the years to come. Focusing on diabetes helps draw instant attention and build an association between the company and its future forays into the segment 

By building large corporate campaigns instead of product-specific advertisements, Abbott is also looking at ways in which the company can inspire trust among consumers. A spokesperson says, "People these days inherently want to trust the company that is making their products. Trust that they make them with quality. Nowhere is trust more critical than in healthcare." 

According to several consumer reports, the modern consumer wants to know who he is transacting with and who is behind the screen. It’s a different level of interest, not just the product or the packaging or its spot on the shelf. Consumers want a relationship with the brands they use and this is particularly difficult in healthcare given that pharma companies can only advertise their OTC (over-the-counter) products. With its corporate brand campaigns, Abbott is looking to be 'top of the mind' in a segment (medicines) which does not allow advertising at all. 

The company says it is trying to create a corporate identity which is associated with new age healthcare, cutting-edge technology that helps one live life to the 'fullest'. Brand expert Harish Bijoor felt that it works well for the company. "One way to take is to advertise OTC drugs which is allowed. But drug firms cannot advertise their core pharma products. Benefits of generic advertising extend beyond OTC and cover a wider spectrum," he explained. 

Abbott is doing a bit of both. It also advertises its products, like Digene or Pediasure. A campaign for Ensure, the adult nutrition drink, is on the anvil. 
This year's campaign is 'Be Brave.Be Bold' that was released on major digital platforms and already has garnered over four million views. A company spokesperson said, "The campaign focuses on how with the help of Abbott’s breakthroughs, modern healthcare has helped people create more possibilities for themselves through the power of good health." 

The film talks of people with diabetes and how they have gone on to lead normal lives. While the company does not mention any of its medicine brands, it talks about normalizing life with diabetes. As a strategy, Abbott could not have chosen a more apt therapy area. India houses 49 per cent of the world's diabetes burden with an estimated 72 million cases in 2017. 

The company also plans to reach out to its consumers through a web series that would educate people about the disease through the journey of those who are living with diabetes. It is also working with three food bloggers who explain how they were able to manage their respective conditions despite the fact that their profession is all about food, which is challenging because they are surrounded by edible things at all times.  

Anti-diabetic is not a key therapy segment for Abbott. The reason perhaps it chose diabetes for its campaign is simply because it touches so many people in India. Being present in India for over 100 years, Abbott understands the market well. AIL is also the fastest growing pharma MNC here--Abbott India clocked a 14.9 per cent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over five years. In comparison, GSK clocked 4.2 per cent, Pfizer 5.9 per cent, Novartis 7 per cent and Sanofi 10.6 per cent five-year CAGR, showed data from market research firm AIOCD AWACS. 

Gastrointestinal is another key therapy area for Abbott in India where it has marquee brands like Digene, Duphalac, Cremafin etc. Earlier this year, cricketer Virendra Sehwag featured in a YouTube video on constipation created by AIL. The company had designed the campaign based on a pan-India gut-health survey. It found out that most respondents were shy about taking medical help to solve their problem, they resorted to home remedies or at least waited for a few months before they went to consult a doctor for their medical condition (constipation). 

Creating such stories is important for the company which has plans to launch 20-22 products each year for the next five years or so. Raising the association with the stakeholders (doctors, patients, distributors etc) is key to continue its growth in India. It recently moved out of the Organisation of Pharmaceuticals Producers of India, a lobby group of foreign pharma companies. Abbott is trying to make a mark in the branded generic pharmaceutical space in India. 

Pitch note


  • For its ongoing Be Brave, Be Bold campaign, Abbott has signed on three food bloggers to talk about how they have managed diabetes. The campaign also talks about real-life experiences of people living with the disease
  • The previous campaign had Virendra Sehwag talking about gastro-intestinal ailments. The company says it had designed its communication around a pan-India gut-health survey