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The Complicated Marketing of Vaccines

December 1, 2011

Vaccine marketing

The medical marketing of vaccines, like every other product out there, can either be marketed successfully with a positive brand message, authenticity and consistency, or it can fail with a poor story line and inconsistent plot. Without getting too controversial, I wanted to touch on the subject of how vaccine are marketed and whether the entire industry has been able to follow the marketing basics.

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 Understanding the Target Audience

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times; a key element in successful brand marketing is understanding your target market, your demographic. Marketing vaccines is no different.

Let’s take the CDC’s handling of the flu vaccine back in 2009, when fears were running high around the nation. Everyone knew about the virus, and the new strain that was floating around. Everyone thought they knew every aspect of the virus, when in fact they only knew what the news told them. The CDC had a vaccine for this new flu strain, however they failed miserably at understanding their audience.

While the CDC spent millions on attempting to educate the public on the virus itself, they failed at understanding how desperately their target audience needed relevant education on the vaccine itself. 

"They've done an OK job talking to people about the virus," Peter Sandman, a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "They've done a terrible job, in my judgment — or at least a pretty poor job, I'll give them a C-minus — in talking to people about the vaccine."

Sandman says the CDC has failed to engage vaccine critics and doubters, and address their concerns in a way they can accept. For instance, he says, the CDC should set up an objective test to prove the vaccine does not contain an immune-boosting chemical called squalene, as some critics insist. (

On the other hand, let’s take a look at the HPV vaccine Gardasil. While incredibly controversial, the Gardasil marketing team did everything right in terms of understanding their audience. They skillfully acknowledged the fact that their target audience, mom’s and young women, simply didn’t know anything about the HP disease and its links to cervical cancer. This low awareness led to a very successful campaign to communicate the link to each target demographic in a personal way.

By understanding a mother’s need to protect her daughters, medical marketers “tapped into that notion that mothers want to do everything that they can to protect their daughters…” and branded their “messaging and creative around” that notion.

Much of the marketing for Gardasil began even before the drug hit the market.

Pfizer has launched a new campaign targeting parents who might ‘opt out’ of childhood vaccinations. Pfizer has developed a medical marketing strategy that understands how parents communicate with one another, knows exactly where those ‘opt out’ parents reside (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami), and can customize vaccine messaging to fit each parent’s needs. In the age of mobile advertising, this is a smart move.


Maintaining Consistency in Brand Marketing

While it remains to be seen how consistent the Pfizer marketing campaign will be, the marketers of Gardasil have been able to keep their story clear and constant throughout all of the controversy, which is one of the reasons why the vaccine has been so successful.

The CDC, on the other hand, had a problem with brand messaging consistency back in 2009, as they were attempting to get the nation on board with the new flu vaccine. While trying to communicate a strong brand message of the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, they ran into a vaccine shortage, thus unraveling their marketing attempts and distorting their brand message.


Are you ready to improve your vaccine marketing efforts?