The art of crafting effective medical copy
In the second article of a series, based on his forthcoming
book, Dr Rajeshwar Singh, Head, Scriptamedica Farmaceutica, looks at
the need for persuasive medical copy, the rules which govern the profession
and lastly, shares some tips on crafting effective medical copy
Art or a craft? Science or semantics? Copy is the core of brand communication
in any mode, digital or printed. Incidentally, Copy has many connotationscarbon
copy, copy book, exact copy of a CD, photocopy of a document.
Copy in the world of advertising means any text in any form on any surface that
announces and sells a product or a service or a concept. Copy which conveys
the profile of a medication is a Medical Copy. Medical devices and diagnostics,
too, need medical copy for promotion.
Writing medical copy differs from consumer copywriting, unless the brand is
an over-the-counter (OTC) product legally permitted to be promoted via lay media
(magazines, TV). An OTC brands copy has the same approach as that of a
consumer brands copy.
Tips offered here apply mostly to medical copy ie. the advertising text composed
for prescription-only-medicines (POM), the UK term for formulations that can
be sold only on a doctors prescription. Promoting POM medicines requires
medical copy to be written in the Rx mode since the audience in this context
is the prescribing medico.
There is though a lot of common ground between OTC-mode medical copy and Rx-mode
medical copy: both presume an in-depth understanding and knowledge of disease.
Medical copywriters are expected to know both sides of disease: as the doctor
perceives it, and as a patient feels it.
Both modes of copy also need some knowledge of diagnostic workup for each disease.
Finally, the medical copywriter, in Rx or OTC mode, must be thoroughly aware
of the competing lines of treatment for a disease. To illustrate this point:
- a backache can be relieved by pain-killers, muscle
relaxants, yoga and physiotherapy; all these compete for the backache sufferers
- diarrhea can be controlled by oral rehydration therapy,
by anticholinergics, and by antiperistaltic agents, or binding agents.
Six different habitats of a medical copywriter
1. Packaging Copy
2. Promotional Copy
3. Medical backgrounders
4. Detailing Manuals
6. Taglines for gifts and brand reminder iInputs
In most pharma organisations, the habitat of medical copy is print promotion.
Accordingly, it is also the focus of this article.
Tools of the trade
Plumbers, carpenters and medical copywriters depend on the efficiency
and reliability of their tools to execute a professional job. Medical copywriters,
ideally, should have access to a medical library. The following books should
be handy, almost always.
- A good English Dictionary (Websters)
- A good Medical English Dictionary (Websters)
- A Thesaurus (Rogets)
- A Usage Manual (Fowlers)
- A book on Medical Quotations (Strauss)
- A book on Medical Abbreviations
- A book on Diseases, Diagnosis and Treatment: Merck
Manual, 18th ed.
This indispensable source is also accessible on www.merck.com.
|1 ) Aim your copy at your patient /
your patients symptoms and not at the patient
2 ) Never use CURE
(doctors either manage a disease or treat a problem or relieve a symptom)
3 ) Use GUARDED / QUALIFIED
expressions (hyperbole or exaggeration erode credibility)
4 ) Translate technicalities
of mechanism of action or pharmacokinetics or the chemistry of drug-delivery
system into CLINICAL BENEFITS or PATIENT BENEFITS
5 ) Keep away from fancy
phrases or clever lines (a fancy phrase attracts attention
only to the phrase, not to the product)
6 ) Cater to all levels of
medical reps : a B Com from backwaters or an MPharm from metros.
7 ) Modulate the Copy for
all levels of audience: the QUACK as well as the CONSULTANT
The final rule: You may
break all the rules! But keep in mind the Chinese statesmans famous
statement: It doesnt matter whether the cat is black or white
so long as it catches mice(Mao ZeDong aka Mao Tse Tung)
The need for persuasive medical copyRx or OTC mode
In a literate society, the prescribers as well as the consumers of modern medicines,
first like to absorb information on a drug before they can absorb the drug.
This is true for almost all patients in western culture, and increasingly so
Thus the more absorbing the drug information, more the urge to prescribe or
pop a pill.
Medical Copywriting is all about conveying this drug information in an engaging
style, with clarity and authenticity, and with flair and finesse, because of
the sophisticated and exalted status of readershipthe medical fraternity.
Good medical copy is, therefore, the only way to get a Share of the Mind:
of the prescribers mind in Rx mode, or the patients mind in OTC
Without acquiring a Share of the Mind, there is little chance of
getting a share of the market.
Rx mode Copy, of course, is also ultimately aimed at selling a brand in the
market place, although via the prescribing doctors mighty pen. It is this
pen that moves Rx brands from a factory to the retailers shelf, where,
finally, the patient gets the written-down prescription filled in.
Professional medical copywriters keep in view the neurolinguistic axis that
starts at top of the mind and ends at the bottom of a ballpoint
A tip for beginners with shaky command over basic English
and medical English
Among the most important prescriber take-aways in a print promotion input (PPI)
are the so-called selling points, also called unique prescribable
propositions (UPP). Each selling point is traditionally highlighted by a bullet.
These bulleted selling points, the distinguishing features of a brand, should
ideally begin with an active verb.
Copywriting after all is salesmanship in print. Thus, if you begin
each bullet point with an active verb, youll notice that the active verb
also plays a selling role. An active verbs adds momentum to each selling statement,
lends a human dimension to each statement, reinforces the credibility of each
statement, as if it is coming from an authority and facilitates detailing by
even newly-inducted medical reps.
Elegance in copywritingmedical or consumerdemands, however, that
the same active verb should not be repeated on the same page. This concern for
elegance can become a major block for beginners, and occasionally,
even for professionals.
Here is a list of possible active verbs with which to begin your
medical copy in a bullet-point orientation to convey any pharma
brands significant attributes:
- Relieves pain
- Reduces inflammation
- Provides better symptom coverage
- Offers additional safety
- Induces prompt relief
- Clears lesions faster
- Tackles coexisting nausea
- Prevents frequent recurrence of attacks
- Precludes the need for adding another drug
- Lessens dependence on nursing staff
- Improves the quality of life
- Offsets high-cost of multi-pill regimens
- Counters beta-lactamase-induced resistance
- Mitigates the misery of chemotherapy-induced vomiting
- Carries less risk of drug interaction.
- Preserves renal function
- Protects liver from viral attacks
- Results in better pregnancy outcomes
- Elicits greater patient acceptance and compliance
- Permits titration of dosage
- Delivers precise quantities of the drug
- Ensures freedom from morning stiffness
- Produces minimal side-effects
- Achieves consistent serum levels
- Facilitates diagnostic work up
- Attains high tissue concentration
- Shortens duration of treatment
- Speeds up recovery
- Accelerates tissue penetration
- Retards progression of disease process
References in medical copy
Medical copy, in the hands of a beginner, often leans heavily on References.
Quoting references, though, is itself a professional activity, fraught with
regulatory restrictions or risks of copyright infringement. The current environment
of Intellectual Property Rights, following the signing of TRIPS agreement by
India, dictates caution in plagiarismintended or unintentional.
Further, modern software such as <turnitin> can detect plagiarism in seconds,
and land the organisation in serious trouble. The temptation to use a reference
for every bullet point should be curbed. When a reference must be quoted
to support a new argument, a new use of the drug, or a new medical angle, the
act of quoting must follow certain accepted conventions. A separate article,
devoted to QUOTING REFERENCES, will appear in a forthcoming issue
of Express Pharma.
IEC Format for Vyatra, marketed
by M/s. Limboceutica
A walk-in introduction
THE FIRST FOCUSSED MOLECULE
AIMED AT LOWER EXTREMITYARTERIAL DISEASE
Cilostazol from Limboceutica
Directly Targets Vascular
Musculature and Platelets -
The Real Culprits Behind
Intermittent Claudication (IC)
Corrects The Underlying
“The mechanisms of cilostazol’s
therapeutic action seem to be related toa combination of beneficial activities,
including smooth muscle relaxationand vasodilatation, platelet inhibition,
inhibition of vascular smooth muscleproliferation, and modest improvements
in serum lipoproteins and ABI (ankle-brachial index).”1
Demonstrably Improves Walking
“In a large, multi-center,
randomised prospective, double-blind study of 516patients with lower extremity
PAD and IC, cilostazol (100 mg twice per day)produced a 51 percent (129
m) increase in maximal walking distance and a 59 percent increase in pain-free
Calls For Vyatra“
Cilostazol should be the
first-line pharmacologic agent prescribed for symptomaticrelief of IC.”3
1,2,3, Brook et al, Cardiology
Clinics Vol. 20(2002) 521-534
The ASK Format
WALKING…is every human being’s
birthright –and medical science has the means to protect it !
VYATRACilostazol from Limboceutica
Helps Your Patients Regain
Their Rightful Ability To WalkBy Focussing on The Underlying Pathology
of Intermittent Claudication
(body copy same as in IEC
Inhibits Platelets: Relaxes
Vascular Musculature…Without Twisting or Distorting the RBCs!
The AIDA Format
MAN IS THE ONLY ‘VERTICAL
But prone to get grounded
by Intermittent Claudication (IC)
NOWYOU HAVE THE POWERTO RESTORE
VERTICAL WALKING TO YOUR IC PATIENTS WITH…VYATRACilostazol from Limboceutica
(body copy same as in IEC)
To Your Grounded Patients
and See Them Walking Pain-free!
The PAPA Format (appropriate
for a visual aid)
You Have The Therapeutic
PowerTo Offer Longer, Pain-free Walking For Patients With IntermittentClaudication
(body copy same as in IEC
Cilostazol from Limboceutica
The First Focussed Drug Treatment
For Lower Extremity
Occlusive Arterial Disease
The Alternative May Be Unthinkable!#
# Untreated Peripheral Arterial
Disease can lead to amputation of the affected leg
Copy formats suitable for pharma brand managers
For the medical copywriter in the Rx mode, fortunately, the copy format is pre-determined,
particularly because the final PPI is meant to be detailed by a
medical representative (MR), either as a carry-back sheet (visual aid) or as
a leave-behind literature (LBL).
The printed page of a visual aid (VA) or an LBL in reality serves as a prompting
plank for the MR to take-off
and eventually to convey in the next
180 secondsor lessthe essential information already bulleted by
the medical copywriter in the PPI.
Even a pre-determined format, though, needs continuitya running thread
for arranging the components of information, like beads in rosary.
A Copy format therefore refers to a harmonious arrangement and sequenceof beadsperhaps
pearlsto facilitate smooth and fluent detailing of the brands
compellingly-composed Unique Prescribing Propositions (UPPs)
Experienced medical copywriters usually prefer to work within four Copy formats
(when you become a pro, you can create your own formats).
Choice of Copy format is governed by the following strategic considerations:
- is the PPI for launching a new product ?
- is the PPI for promoting an existing product ?
- is the PPI a visual aid sheetto be shown and
taken back, or an LBL ?
- is the PPI meant to counter competitors claims
(the knock-out strategy) ?
The following four Copy formats answer these considerations, and facilitate
the act of copywriting.
Once an appropriate Copy format is selected, there may be an additional benefit.
Besides arranging copy components in a detailable sequence, the format also
helps overcome writers block, especially when one is stuck
with how to begin or how to end.
Four print promotion formats that work
Four detailable, field-tested approaches in medical copywriting are demonstrated
here. Each of these four formats has a common structure: a headline, main copy,
and a bottom line. In consumer advertising, the equivalent terms are headline,
body copy and sign-off.
|1. Start by putting the date on top of the
2. State clearly what you
are about to write copy for a 2-page card; 4-page folder Rx Pad;
16-page booklet on Brand x
3. Begin the Rx mode copy
with the statutary warning For the use only of a registered medical
practitioner or a hospital or a laboratory, when it is an LBL
4. Set aside for a while
that virtuosity with your laptops QWERTY keyboard: use a pencil,
and an eraser that erases.
5. No matter how urgent the
job, discard or revise your first draft.
6. Urgency be damned: create
a temporal objectivity between you and your copy by reviewing
your final draft after half-a-day, or at least, after half-an-hour. Only
then, send it up or down for further processing.
7. Insist on seeing the final-final
proof of the print promotion. Some howlers mysteriously become manifest
at this last stage: A medical copywriters responsibility for accuracy
extends right up to the production stage.
I. The IEC / IEW format
Conclude / Wrap-up
II. The ASK format
Knock out competition
III. The AIDA format
IV. The PAPA format
Pitfalls to be avoided
author currently heads Scriptamedica Farmaceutica, a Consultancy Service
specialising in pharma and medical communications. He can be contacted at
Spellings: Dont depend entirely on Computerji.
A spelling error will stop someone from reading. The readers might also assume
that if there are spelling mistakes, there are other mistakes. They might even
think you are a bad writer, and therefore, a bad brand manager. They will probably
make more comments. The trouble caused by spelling errors far outweighs the
effort required to correct them.
To emphasise once again
The computer is a moron. Spellcheck wont
between their and there,
between plain and plane,
between mail and male...and also between cervical meaning vertebrae, and cervical
referring to cervix (men have the former; women have both) and a scan can mean
many thingsfrom medical imaging to ones reading habits (funnily,
you are scanning a newspaperwhen you are turning the pages hurriedly,
and also when you are reading every single line!)
Moral: Check the context, not just the spellings
Medical copy: Some benchmarks
effective medical copy
- is equally clear to the medical rep and the doctor
- gets appreciated by a GP as well as super-specialist
Successful medical copy
- is utterable and detailable
- is delivered with correct pronunciation and intonation
Good medical copy
- is error-free, conforms to medical writing style
- summarises patient benefits of the brand in four to six lines
Note: a medical copywriter has no control over the
delivery, but can take care in choosing words which are easy on the tongue as
well as under the ballpoints tip.
Adding a touch of positivity in Rx
Almost all drugs, available with or without a doctors
prescription, have undesirable attributes. All, however, have been legally permitted
to be marketed because their benefits outweigh their adverse effects. Ignoring
the unwanted effects, or deliberately air-brushing them, is illegal as well
as unethical (all POM brands are also called ethicals in industry
jargon). And yet the frequent sighting of not, non and
no by a casual reader of medical copy canand doesgenerate
negative vibes. Indeed, most doctors give a cursory reading to medical copy,
and react negatively to negative words.
Seasoned medical copywriters can overcome this issue thus:
- change no adverse effects to free from adverse effects
- replace non-irritant, non-greasy base to skin-friendly,
- try incompatible for not compatible
-rewrite not indicated in children as indicated for adults
and children above 12
Evolving copy from a graphic perspective
1. Try rephrasing positioning statement / copy platform into
a picturesque headline ie. a headline containing words that have imagery. Such
headlines inspire the artist to come up with memorable graphics
2. Choose documentation / promotional data that are convertible into pie-charts,
bar-charts or graphs
3. Begin each selling point with an active verb (and a different active verb
for each point, as demonstrated earlier)
4. Keep in view the detailability - hence expand all first-time-occurring abbreviations,
as also all journal names abbreviations
5. Try to structure your copy with short sub-headings followed by explanatory
text / illustration: such a copy allows detailing flexibilityacross 30-second
to 120- second time windows
6. Prepare your copy meticulouslychecking it for grammar, spelling, style,
numbers, percentages, x-axis and y-axis in charts (preparing copy is not just
Epilogue: Loves labour lost!
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,
For a want of a horse, the soldier was lost,
For want of a soldier, the battle was lost!
Similarly, for want of a hyphen, the meaning was lost
Six monthly doses vs six-monthly doses
For want of correct spelling or a hyphen the credibility of copy was lost!
And perhaps, as a result..
The brand managers
- Confidence was lost
- Self-image was lost
- Authority was lost
Is that why some folks prefer Copying to copywriting?
1. Copy: the core of advertising, by Aesop Glim, Dover
Publications, New York, 1963
2. The craft of copywriting, by June Valladares. Response Books (Sage
Publications), New Delhi, 2000
1 . Medical Advertising Hall of Fame <mahf.com>
2 . The Medical Advertising Club of New York <therxclub.com>
3 . Pharmaceutical Advertising <adpharm. net> (its a paid site dedicated
to pharmaceutical advertising in US and Canada: its excellent blog can be accessed