I have marketed to every human orifice there is, and let me tell you, it’s all fun and games until someone mentions herpes. Cotton swabs, no problem. Mouthwash, fine. Eye drops, I can make those sexy. Nasal mist, getting trickier. But an anti-viral drug for herpes? Well, there was a test. But what good is creativity if it can’t help you when you need it most? Whatever the challenge – whether designing a campaign for a product no one wants to talk about or finding a way to make a dull subject entertaining and engaging for audiences – an engaged team will overcome and produce outstanding results.
Car insurance wasn’t funny until Geico started one-upping itself with creative ads. Body wash was just soapy until the Old Spice Guy – who is the man your man could smell like – hopped into the shower. Our challenge was to create a similar branding experience for Valtrex, a herpes medication. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is a Google Image search for “herpes.” How could we make herpes of all things, fun and exciting? How were we going to tell a great story?
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We came up with a comic character, Captain V. This irreverent superhero zipped around in his flowing cape and tights, saving the day and explaining the most important features and benefits of Valtrex. The sales force loved it. Remember, when pharmaceutical salespeople visit health care centers and clinics, they typically have three drugs to present in the two minutes that doctors can spare them. Valtrex was invariably in the third position, and they’d be lucky to sputter out its name before their time was up.
Captain V to the rescue; the drug hit $10 million in sales. We had a huge celebration – and, coincidentally, that same week, the company that owned Valtrex topped $1 billion in sales. Guess what people were talking about? Valtrex and its $10 million. It made that big an impact. I choose to think it’s because we did a stellar job. Not just that a crazy amount of people have herpes.
We were given a task that was, at best, boring. Our job was to make it exciting and fun. With every difficult situation, there is always a solution. Sometimes we stumble on it. Other times, we search for it with flashlights, trying to tease it out of its hiding place. But if you’ve fostered a culture of engagement, your team is more resourceful. They persevere and keep digging deeper and deeper to find a solution. If you don’t have that type of culture, you’re never going to achieve excellence. Not even Captain V can save you.
Teams need challenging projects. The trick is to make sure you’re putting the right people on the job. For instance, if you need to source a venue for a product launch, it won’t be a challenge for an Account Director, but it will be for an Account Coordinator. Put the Director on something that stretches his or her creativity and skill, and give the Coordinator a shot. When the Coordinator accepts the challenge, his or her solutions may be wildly different – and just as effective. Or not, and he’ll learn.
When people are challenged, they are more engaged because they’re pushed just outside of their comfort zone, but not far enough that they feel inadequate. These are perfect conditions for flow experiences – and for effective, creative solutions.