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Out-of-the-box: Pfizer builds brand recognition among Baby Boomers with #FOGO

Pfizer Inc. may be known for blockbuster prescription drug products drugs like Viagra and Lipitor, but building out that kind of brand recognition isn’t easy. Consumers can’t buy most Pfizer products directly, and the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole (which is less trusted than the automotive and telecommunications industries), doesn’t radiate a feel-good vibe, according to research by public relations firm Edelman.

So how does a company build consumer trust? In the case of Pfizer, you channel Mad Men‘s Don Draper and change the conversation. That’s precisely what the pharma company did with its “Get Old” campaign, launched in 2012.

“Get Old” started as an experiment “that ended up teaching us a lot of lessons,” Brenna Robinson, director of digital strategy at Pfizer, said at the recent Digital Strategy Innovation Summit in New York City. Launched in 2012, “Get Old” is a campaign targeted at aging adults, a growing population as the Baby Boomers head into their retirement years. It’s not an advertisement campaign nor is it advertorial. Instead, the Get Old website and the messaging through its social channels is something much more akin to AARP.

Some of the content is original, some of it is aggregated from other news sites, much of it is humorous, and all of it is directed at older adults. But none of it feels like a message from a pharmaceutical company, and that’s precisely the point, according to Robinson. “I want people to look at this campaign and be surprised by the fact that it’s from Pfizer,” she said.

The “Get Old” campaign even includes a unique hashtag FOGO (fear of getting old), a play on the popular Millennial hashtag FOMO (fear of missing out). FOGO is a good example of the tone Robinson wanted the campaign to take: Fresh, witty, edgy, and even young. “To our surprise, [FOGO] kind of caught on,” said Robinson, who admitted her standards for “catching on” are “probably lower than in the consumer space.” (Although, if this New York Magazine article is to be believed, it looks like FOGO might be co-opted by younger generations to mean fear of going out.)

Still, the point of the campaign was to develop relationships with customers in a unique way — as a general information hub and online community directed at a demographic most likely to use Pfizer products. “One of the big things for us is that it changes the perception about Pfizer,” Robinson said. “We know when we increase engagement and reach like we have this year, we’re making people feel better about Pfizer. It’s sort of a one-man-at-a-time kind of mission, but we thought it was enough to say we’re on to something.”

It’s an example of a company not only thinking outside of the box, but engaging in actual experimentation — in Robinson’s case, to build brand awareness. As CIOs know well, injecting that kind of free thinking and freedom of expression (Robinson called it “disruptive testing”) doesn’t come naturally to established businesses — nor did it come naturally to Pfizer.

“The sell around doing things that really might not work — and some didn’t work — was a real cultural shift for us,” Robinson said. “The worst thing that was going to happen, though, is that people weren’t going to like it.” The world, she said, wasn’t going to fall apart, and it was “worth disrupting our normal pattern for something that’s really different.”