4 Steps to Rescue Poor Creative Design for Clinical Trials
Twenty years ago, creative design for clinical trials didn’t even exist. As the pharmaceutical industry has expanded and demand for clinical trial participants has grown, the demand for marketing in this niche has also grown, but there are still many areas with the potential to better meet this need.
Within larger marketing and advertising firms, clinical trial advertising hasn’t exactly been assigned to top talent because of the short time frames, budgets that are direct response-oriented, and marketing that is neither branding nor big-idea campaigns.
But clinical trials are a cornerstone of the pharmaceutical industry, and deserve effective and attractive creative design so the trials can attract the right participants, communicate accurately within regulatory boundaries, and educate participants of the benefits and limitations of a clinical trial from the very first time they read about it.
Fortunately, the principles of a great marketing campaign can rescue poor creative design for clinical trials and get clinical trial recruitment back on track.
Creative Design Rescue for Clinical Trials: Step 1 Know the Patient
Within marketing, creative design communicates your brand’s aesthetic. Clinical trial marketing is no different. The design reflects the pharmaceutical company’s professionalism, compassion, commitment to science, and care for the patient. It needs to connect emotionally to the patient, or the patient’s family/caregivers when the patient is a child or under the care of someone who makes medical decisions on their behalf.
The imagery and wording in this ad does a very good job of connecting with the pain of having acne:
Understand the patient journey and the language patients use when they speak about their condition and use similar language in your copy.
In the fall of 2018, Syneos Health reported the results of a survey into the effectiveness of digital advertising for clinical trial recruitment. The respondents felt the lowest trust for pharmaceutical companies, preferring to get information from doctors, other patients, and friends and family. Creative design can use these more-trusted sources to emotionally connect with potential participants.
Knowing the patient/participant must include knowing what might deter them from participating in a clinical trial. The Syneos Health study identified four top concerns: transportation issues, lack of payment for the time invested, receiving the placebo, and concerns over privacy. The more that an ad can address these concerns, the better the response.
The study also found that people responded more to images of people experiencing the same distress they experience (such as a person in pain for a migraine study rather than a happy person). Imagery is also an excellent way to communicate the demographics of your trial. In this example from antidote, the imagery clearly shows that the study is appropriate for minorities, both genders, and people of varying ages. It also includes information that the study is a paid clinical study, which helps to address the concern about lack of payment for time invested.
This ad by Trialfacts is targeting women aged 18 to 25 who suffer from migraines:
Knowing what participants are searching for and where they are searching will improve your ad targeting. This ad from antidote is designed to show up with Google searches and includes keywords related to searches about diabetes clinical trials:
Creative Design Rescue for Clinical Trials: Step 2 Know the Regulations
Anyone working on creative design for clinical trials must know the FDA Regulations for Recruiting Study Subjects, and how those restrictions change on a c country by country basis for global clinical Trials. Always, always, always design ads with the IRB review in mind. These include being careful to avoid language that could come across as coercive and don’t make statements about how a study drug can help participants beyond what is stated in the protocol.
The KPI Agency has invested in a proprietary database in partnership with the global law firm Baker & McKenzie of all patient recruitment guidelines and major media outlet guidelines for patient recruitment across 49 countries. Having access to a database like this can be an invaluable resource to ensure your global clinical trial materials fly through Ethics Committees (ECs) and IRB’s with little to no revisions at all, saving precious time and money in the patient recruitment and retention process.
Remember, the FDA “considers direct advertising for study subjects to be the start of the informed consent and subject selection process” so everything you communicate in an advertisement must be compliant with regulations. “Generally, FDA believes that any advertisement to recruit subjects should be limited to the information the prospective subjects need to determine their eligibility and interest.”
Any advertisements conducted in other countries need to follow the regulations of those countries.
If the creative design for a clinical trial has been produced with someone who isn’t aware of the regulations and doesn’t follow them, there can be serious implications. The Journal of Medical Internet Research offers some good open source guidelines for effective Facebook advertising for clinical study recruitment. It includes information on some of Facebook’s ad requirements as of publication in 2018.
Good ad design includes consideration of the ad requirements for whatever platform you’re advertising on. In the JMIR article, they note that “Facebook prohibits advertisement that “asserts or implies personal attributes including disability or medical condition (including physical or personal health)”. While it’s likely that an ad that isn’t compliant will be rejected before it can go live, it’s also possible that it will be flagged and removed at a later date, putting at risk any social proof the ad had generated and causing unnecessary delays to the recruitment campaign. The right approach involves knowing requirements during the design process of any ad.
Creative Design Rescue for Clinical Trials: Step 3 Know the Study
The fact that the advertisement is for a clinical trial cannot be an afterthought. We’ve seen many examples where ads looked beautiful and well-designed but showed a clear lack of understanding about the protocol for the clinical trial it was attempting to recruit for.
Clinical Trial ad design must be done with someone who understands the clinical trial protocol, an understanding of the disease or condition, the inclusion and exclusion criteria for trial participants, an understanding of the science regarding the drug/intervention, what the experience of participating in a clinical trial is like for the patient, and the fundamentals of clinical trials.
Is the study multi-arm? Is there a placebo? Is it interventional or observational? Is it head-to-head? Is there an open-label-extension? Is it for expanded access or adjuvant treatment. Are there burdensome participation requirements? All of these and more can be completely glossed over by inexperienced creatives and agencies and can result in significant miscommunication, off-target creative design and messaging, poor enrollment rates, and wasted dollars and enrollment timelines.
In an article by Jonathan Kimmelman and Alex John London for STAT, they claim that misleading advertisements for cancer clinical trials that speak of new ways to fight cancer and cancer treatment options [implying the trial will effectively treat cancer], among other examples “undermines the very norms of science that clinical trials—and cancer centers themselves—are supposed to advance.” Clinical trial advertisements that do not take into consideration the science behind the trial can damage the entire industry.
Creative Design Rescue for Clinical Trials: Step 4 Know the Design Criteria
The right design will attract the best participants and compel them to sign up for the clinical trial. Take an overview of what competitors are doing with their designs, and then look at how insights about your audience can be used to appeal to them. Depending on the demographics, choose the right channels, and include the opportunity for participants to act altruistically. Add your unique voice to the point of view to ensure successful patient recruitment and retention. An article from Antidote builds on this idea further and recommends thinking about advertising design in three parts: the verbal message, the visual message, and the call to action. Make sure all three work together to create a narrative that patients can follow.
Although clinical studies designed to be conducted remotely are becoming more common, many studies are still limited in geography to a certain distance from a hospital or clinic. Within that location, there may be competing trials, so make sure you know where and how competitor studies are recruiting participants.
Since you’ve taken the time to know the patients you are targeting, you can use this insight in your design. Connecting with the pain points and health goals of potential participants helps to show them you share the same goals and want to support them in their healthcare journey. Answer their main questions and concerns within the ad so there are fewer objections to overcome as they decide to participate.
As we’ve discussed with the founder of Seeker Health Sandra Shpilberg, social media is becoming the best place for recruiting participants, especially as trials become more personalized and require patients that meet very specific criteria.
The Syneos Health survey found that respondents did best at recalling trial ads from doctor’s offices, TV, and Facebook, and they tended to trust most digital sources (although YouTube was the most-trusted).
The effectiveness of ads on social media increased with clinical imagery (such as a doctor in a white lab coat), and long content performed well, with “eighty-one percent of respondents who indicated their condition has a high negative impact on their quality of life preferred [a social media ad] with longer and more detailed copy.”
Words such as ‘help’ and ‘volunteer’ that appeal to a participant’s sense of altruism perform best as well as calls to action along the lines of ‘Learn how you can participate’ rather than ‘Start now’.
Trialfacts shares this quote from a patient in answer to a question about why they signed up for a trial: “Anything that will help further our overall knowledge of PTSD and achieve a higher quality of care for vets is a good thing.” The article notes that ideal trial participants are motivated by the chance to help others. And when trials involve people suffering from a disease or condition, participating can help patients feel a sense of purpose in their suffering.
Test different creative designs, and incorporate the feedback into the ads that will convert viewers into participants in the shortest amount of time, while preparing them with the best information about how the study can help and what to expect.
Often we think of clinical trials as needing a very different approach from commercial pharma advertising, and from a regulatory and scientific perspective that is true, however clinical trial patients are still people, with beliefs, emotions, fears, educational needs, and challenges. Always think about how you can compliantly and ethically improve your storytelling and creative and you will create a significant competitive advantage within your clinical research organization.