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What Bach and Yo-Yo Ma Can Teach Us About Pharmaceutical Marketing

Lately, I have been digging some classical cello which leads me to a lesson, we in the pharmaceutical marketing industry need to take: complexity fills our industry yet deceptive simplicity is the goal.

In a recent podcast of “Song Exploder” Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps the world's most celebrated cellist, took apart one of the most famous cello pieces ever written, Cello Suite #1 in G Major: Prelude.

In the podcast, Yo-Yo Ma notes the following on the opening sequence of Bach’s Prelude:

So how does a four year old kid start playing Bach suites? It sounds hard but if you actually think of it, the beginning of the suite [starts] with open strings. You put one finger down, and then again open string…that’s a pattern that anyone can learn. So that’s day one, out of 42 measures. So the next day you use two fingers, and so on and so on. It’s actually quite simple.

What Yo-Yo Ma does is break down the individual elements of something which sounds tremendously complex and beautiful into a shockingly simple explanation of how to get it done. His understanding of Prelude is almost linear and logistical in approach: it might be complex but it starts with a single step that anyone can learn.

So, how does this apply to pharmaceutical marketing and advertising?

1. The Story Needs to be Simple

In the pharma marketing companies as well as agencies use strategy, data, and creative to pitch a complex narrative of how different platforms interact and engage with one another to effectively target and move patients/caregivers/HCPs to an action predisposed.

While this happens, the truth is for that complex ecosystem to work at the end of the day the message and the sequence of steps a patient/caregiver/HCP needs to take to be on script needs to come across as logistical, linear, and simple. All of the tactics, engagements, and platforms in the world could work well with one another yet if the message and steps aren’t clear to your user, nothing will ever be achieved.

2. The Message Needs to be Clear

Pharma agencies have copywriters, art directors, UX, and strategists on hand to look at a complex problem and simplify it to its base elements. This eventually nets out in what a user sees — a website, an email, a banner, or a live experience.

These end deliverables need to communicate a complex idea like CAR-T therapy in a single digestible image, video, gif, or headline to capture the user and propel him/her to action. Without the ability to boil down a complex idea into a single visual all of the pre-work done behind the scenes means nothing:

HCP KYMRIAH Car-T Transform Messaging
Patient KYMRIAH Patient T Cell Transform Messaging

3. The Result Needs to be Beautiful and Functional

Finally, Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite #1 in G Major is thought to be written in 1720 however it wasn’t made famous until around 1890, 170 years later. The man who brought it forward was cellist Pablo Casals after finding Bach’s notes in Barcelona. One of the reasons Casals worked so hard to bring the Prelude to life was because of how beautiful and moving the composition is.

Casals records Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite #1 in G Major in 1936. It is the first recording of Bach’s original composition, ever. What makes the recording interesting is Bach’s notes on the composition offer no interior notes on dynamics, sound, and pacing. Casals worked so hard at bringing the composition to life because it proved to be a Rorschach test allowing Casals to create the composition by piecing it together through the original writing, Casals ear, and what sounded beautiful and moving.

Casals brought Bach’s composition to life because of how beautiful and moving it proved to be. He created Prelude because it was both beautiful and functional in that it served a purpose to resurrect the cello.

This is our keynote: everything the pharmaceutical advertising industry creates needs to both move the end user through beauty and be functional to the end user through the application. Without both, the tactic proves ineffective.

So, the next time you get stuck on bringing a pharma industry problem to life, listen to Prelude from Cello Suite #1 in G Major. Takes its lessons to heart, Simplicity, Clarity, Beauty, and Function. They are the cornerstones of how patients, caregivers, and HCPs are reached.

And now, here is Yo-Yo Ma’s 2018 recording of the Prelude from Cello Suite #1 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach in its entirety:

Brad Yale can be reached for comment at brad.yale@ddbhealth.com. He believes in the power of music to simplify, drive action, and bring immense beauty into the world. He also believes it provides insight into how the pharmaceutical marketing industry should operate.



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Brad Yale

Nerd at heart. I write about health, tech, data, search and content.