Oh, How I adversely affect thee, let me count the ways

Jared Kelleher   August 25, 2009
pill11A content strategy pharma conundrum. (image via net_efekt)

The breakdown: How do you write a paid search ad for a pharma client that delicately balances FDA requirements, online space restrictions, drug benefits and adverse effects? Not an easy pill to swallow, but Jared Kelleher shows us one unique approach below.

I’ve been watching MadMen, and it seems to me that advertising was simpler then, than it is today; and that they used to drink a lot at work, though maybe there’s no correlation.

Then, you just whipped up wild ads like this over a couple martinis at lunch. Today, there are rules and regulations, general counsels, and protective bodies like the Consumer Protection Agency and the Food & Drug Administration, and we’re charged with knowing all the ins, outs and what have yous of the industry’s laws, bills, bylaws and amendments.  I feel cheated, though not nearly as much as the pharmaceutical companies must feel.

Under an FDA rule called fair balance, if we’re promoting a drug’s benefits, we need to fairly balance those benefits with content about its risks. Pharma advertising evolved to adhere to the new ground rules; while watching the pretty people in the TV spots, we hear dozens of deleterious side effects as background voice-overs.  In print, half or more of a drug ad contains the important safety information and adverse effects copy about sweaty hands, dry mouths, erections lasting longer than four hours, or in the case of black box warning drugs, thoughts or attempts of suicide.

Last spring, many pharmaceutical companies received letters from the FDA noting that their paid search ads were touting drug benefits, without equally messaging the drug’s risks. In paid search, fair balance rules are harder to play by. Try equally extolling the marvelous benefits and mysteriously unusual adverse effects of a drug in an ad the size of a matchbook.

Many drug companies responded by rewriting their paid search ads with benign, benefit-free, unbranded copy, or they pulled their paid search ads altogether.  I’m no expert in pharma, but let’s consider a crazy idea: what if, instead of pulling our ads or rewriting them so feebly that neither the FDA nor our own customers know who’s running the ads, our paid search ads were explicitly about side effect and risks – no benefits.

Imagine, for example, Henny Penny Labs, a fictitious maker of the world’s leading worry and anxiety medications, most notably, WillyNilliex® – the #1 drug for nervous, jittery, cat-like behavior. Let’s say we’re charged with a keyword buy. Research shows we need a buy on symptoms such as: jitters, jittery, jumpy, goofy, tight, uptight, mad, mad as hell, angst, agita, and interestingly, verklempt.

Instead of getting upside down about what we can’t say about the tremendous benefits of WillyNilliex, we’ll run paid search solely on the drug’s rare-but-bizarre adverse effects, which incidentally, are likely the precise content many of our customers are looking for. Patients know what WillyNilliex is supposed to do. They want to know what it might inadvertently do – like possibly cause thoughts of suicide – good to know. Since there isn’t room in a paid search ad to balance benefits content with risks content, we’ll focus our test ad almost wholly on risks and side effects while mindfully communicating the drug’s indication:

WillyNilliex® Beats the Jitters
Side effects include hot dog fingers
evil eye, clown fear and more….


This sample is a bit out there, but it demonstrates how this transparent approach would benefit the user by being honest and forward with the side effects. Maybe it’s not quite a drug marketer’s dream, but the ad provides brand impression, piques interest and gives users access to content they supposedly want to see, all while seemingly coloring within the FDA’s lines.

OK, who wants a martini?

My (Fake) Content Strategy Destiny

Dawn Bovasso   May 27, 2009
ryt-hospital-websiteRYT Hospital is a fake; male pregnancy remains a dream. (via PhilB.com)

I have a friend who owns a small design agency. We were recently chatting about his clients, and he said, “Well, mostly these days I’m doing fake sites.”

Ummm, what? I got crazy excited. I love fake sites and have been compiling a list of them, like the ones that LOST has for Ajira Airways and the Dharma Initiative. The idea that I can both create fake content and strategize it is like CS nirvana.

Apparently, my friend has been doing fake sites for domain squatters. Say back in 1998, you bought scattergather.com for no reason other than it sounded cool. Now, let’s say Microsoft comes knocking and wants to buy it from you for their corporate blog. Apparently, your powers of negotiation are quite a bit higher if you have a somewhat believable site live.

So imagine then if Microsoft came to the former owners of scattergather.com, and instead of getting a squatter page, they owners could, in all seriousness, say, “Well, we are serious experts regarding fine confetti and its scattering” (or something like that) and had a site to prove this. They could have demanded a price that reflects the fact that they have to give up their serious business site.

I want this job, immediately. I want to make crazy, fantastic, innovative sites with ridiculous domain names, and try to come up with content to match it. For example, when the UX team was creating the Ajira Airways site, they must have had a serious conversation about the error message you get when you search for a flight—as if it were a real, serious error message.

Imagine the taxonomy and content modules I could do for a Hogwarts site! Or for the Rambaldi artifacts! Or what if we did a site for something that made no sense at all, but had an amazing name, like bloodsugarsexmagik.com? So much CS/UX potential… and then someday, someone famous just might want that domain name.

I’ve found my dream job.

To Fabricate or Not to Fabricate

Robert Stribley   March 12, 2009


Lifeless, shiny, efficient: Astroturf, the hoax which fools no one. (via)

Here’s the situation: You’re sitting in a meeting with your client when they ask you to write up some glowing reviews of their wonderful new widget. Let’s be clear: they want you to make stuff up. Do you accept your mission? Or do you graciously turn the creative writing exercise down? Before you make that choice, consider a couple of instances where this practice – what might loosely be described as astroturfing – went terribly awry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Razorfish Blogs


  • SXSW Interactive

    March 7 – 11, Austin, TX
    Several of our contributors will be speaking this year. If you’re going, say hi to Rachel, Robert, & Hawk.

  • Confab Minneapolis

    May 7-9, Minneapolis, MN
    The original Confab Event. Rachel will be there doing her Content Modelling workshop with Cleve Gibbon. Get details and we’ll see you there!

  • Intelligent Content Conference Life Sciences & Healthcare

    May 8-9, San Francisco, CA
    Call for Presenters, now open:


  • Confab for Nonprofits

    Jun 16, Chicago, IL
    Another new Confab Event! Early Bird pricing until March 7:  http://confabevents.com/events/for-nonprofits

  • Content Strategy Forum

    July 1-3, Frankfurt, Germany
    International Content Strategy workshops & conference: csforum2014.com Call for speakers now open!

Search scatter/gather

What is this site, exactly?

Scatter/Gather is a blog about the intersection of content strategy, pop culture and human behavior. Contributors are all practicing Content Strategists at the offices of Razorfish, an international digital design agency.

This blog reflects the views of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of Razorfish.

What is content strategy?

Oooh, the elevator pitch. Here we go: There is content on the web. You love it. Or you do not love it. Either way, it is out there, and it is growing. Content strategy encompasses the discovery, ideation, implementation and maintenance of all types of digital content—links, tags, metadata, video, whatever. Ultimately, we work closely with information architects and creative types to craft delicious, usable web experiences for our clients.

Why "scatter/gather"?

It’s an iterative data clustering operation that’s designed to enable rich browsing capabilities. “Data clustering” seems rather awesome and relevant to our quest, plus we thought the phrase just sounded really cool.

Privacy Policy | Entries (RSS) |     © Razorfish™ LLC All rights reserved. Company Logo.