Myths about Medico-marketing Copy Writing – Come, Let’s Bust Them

Myths about Medico-marketing Copy Writing – Come, Let’s Bust Them

Written By: Vivek Hattangadi

When I started writing medico-marketing copy as a brand manager, for some unknown reason I felt that you need to be well qualified and highly educated in the English language with a Ph. D or D.Litt. (and I am just a science graduate who passed out with just 36.5 percent score).

But very soon I realized that what you really need.   

You need passion. 

You need imagination. 

You need to work hard. 

And you need to bust the myths around medico-marketing copy. (And

I need your help in busting 7 of them). What are they?

1.  Doctors are rational and prescribe medicines using rational judgement. 

2.  Gobbledygook words are appreciated.  

3.  Humour is taboo. 

4.  Medico-marketing copywriting is easy.  

5.  You need to be inspired to write. 

6.  Editing is not necessary if you have mastery over the English Language

7.  Good writers are born, not made.

1. Doctors are rational and prescribe medicines using rational judgement. 

We live in a world which is often irrational and illogical. That’s because System-1 dominates our thinking. 

System-1 says Daniel Kahneman in his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is the brain’s automatic, intuitive, and unconscious thinking mode. It requires little energy or attention. He considers System-1 thinking is fast and parallel, automatic, subconscious and is driven by emotions and associations. System-1 is controlled by the limbic system which is the seat of emotions. Hunches and emotions are far more influential than what you have ever previously thought. 

Prescribing decisions are therefore guided by the limbic system. Hence, 95 percent of the time these decisions may not be rational. There is ‘thinking inertia’. 

Case Study 1 

The year was 1981. We at Carter-Wallace under licence from Bristol-Myers introduced Rifadin, i.e., rifampicin. Rifadin and Rimactane from Ciba-Geigy had jointly researched this product. We at Carter-Wallace were also given marketing support from Bristol-Myers. The strategy was straight forward: take on R-Cin from Lupin, the market leaders head-on.  Focus on “it comes from the originators. Its serum levels and therefore efficacy is far superior to the Indian copy cats”. What a rational way to take on competition. Then as the District Manager I presumed Rifadin will win hands-down. We implemented the strategy 100 percent as per the diktat from Bristol-Myers. 

And do you know the outcome of this strategy? Guess? Yes. You have guessed correctly. Rifadin lost by an innings and a thousand runs. And for the football aficionados, it’s like Brazil losing to India by 33 goals. India 33: Brazil 0.  

Emotions have a dominant role in a doctor’s prescription decision and not rational. 

2.  Gobbledygook or Tharoorian words 

Gobbledygook words are often referred to as ‘Tharoorian words’ in India. (Example: Floccinaucinihilipilification. It means – The action or habit of estimating something as worthless).

Tharoorian words will put our medical representatives in a shell and will send the doctor scrambling for cover. 

Do you know what I did to pre-empt Tharoorian words? 

When heading brand management, whenever a brand manager came to me for approval of copy, even before seeing it I said, “Go, show it to the junior executives in HR, finance, and supply chain. If they understand what you have written, come to me.

Your copy should be so simple that even a 12-year-old schoolchild can understand it.  Your doctor shouldn’t burn brain calories in understanding it. (More on brain calories in one of my later blogs in this series.

Case Study 2 

This is an example of a medico-marketing promotional material from a company outside India. See the word ‘Endophthalmitis’. Certainly “inflammation of the inner cavity of the eye” would have made the medical representative easier to verbalize and detail. And the doctor would have been spared the agony of hearing a wrongly pronounced unpronounceable word.  


3.  Humour is taboo  

“Laughter is the best medicine” is an old-age adage. Yet, using humor and laughter in medico-marketing is rare, almost unknown. If you come across or have used such in medico-marketing, please share with me.  

Humor is a common fixture in our daily lives and is true amongst the doctors too. Many doctors say that humor is necessary for them. There is a “hidden fun child” in every human being, including a doctor.  Is it that probably pharma brand managers had less fun as children and therefore consider humor in medico-marketing promo’s as taboo? (I know of the owner of a pharma company from Mumbai, named Hasmukh. Hasmukh means ever smiling. But our Hasmukh Bhai never smiled. Fun and laughter in the brand management team was banned. He loved poker-faced brand managers). It is likely that there are many more Hasmukh’s in our industry and the lively brand managers are being restrained. 

Case Study 3 

One evergreen humorous mnemonic developed is Mr. Mucus for the cough expectorant, Mucinex. Mr. Mucus, the villainous spokesblob and is a vile mascot. I loved this character Mr. Mucus and made me smile. He stands for a rather disgusting symptom of respiratory illness. 

Mucinex In, Mr. Mucus Out

Incidentally, Mucinex is the third largest consumer healthcare brand in US and is growing at over 30 percent.  

Humour can be a great asset for brands for creating differentiation and positive associations with doctors and even the patients. Humour is a powerful emotion. It can greatly help pharma communication, lower psychological barriers. And indeed, it is also a great icebreaker for the medical representative when he has to deliver his communication less than 30 seconds.  

4.  Is Medico-marketing copywriting easy?

Yes! Of course! For a lazy brand manager who just picks up a couple of lines from a clinical trial and uses it as a headline, another 3 to 4 features from other clinical trials and prepares a literature. 

So simple. So easy. So effortless. 

Hey! Now, ChatGPT has made it even easier.  

But now let’s say hello to Naina Pradhan, the genuine, thinking, brand manager and ask what her challenges as a brand manager are in copywriting.

Says Naina Pradhan” I have several challenges. But the greatest is to write a headline that keeps the doctors engaged and gets hooked. I have to study competitor’s literature. I don’t want my brand to be similar to competitor.  And the next is to develop a tagline which is pithy, memorable and the medical representatives would love repeating it again and again without getting bored. Something like what Mucinex has created”. How true Naina Pradhan is!

5.  You need to be inspired to write a powerful copy

Really? It is the dirty little lie you tell yourself about writing inspiration. And by the way, when your boss wants everything yesterday, do you really have that luxury of time in the real corporate world? That inspiration can come anytime provided you have a passion for writing a good copy and you keep on thinking about it day and night. And that passion can light up anywhere. 



That’s the time I get the best ideas – in the toilet. I always carry my smartphone to the toilet and keep the Evernote app open, lest a good idea comes and suddenly evaporates. Besides, when I have a bowel movement, my body is clear and so is my mind. And that’s where I come up with some great ideas – at the most unlikely place.

Be like Cassius Clay i.e., Muhammad Ali who said to himself every day; “I am a GOAT – Greatest of All Time”. “I am a GOAT copywriter.” And you will create some of the best headlines, taglines, and stories. 

6.  Editing is not necessary if you have mastery over the English language

Okay! And of course, you have mastery over the English language. So why do I need an editing of my copy to be done? 

Mastery over the language does not give you the license to skip editing. Often, non-dictionary stupid, ridiculous, and absurd words add zest and jest to your headlines or tagline. 

Now a small task for you before you read further. 

Open 3 good dictionaries like Oxford or Webster. Look for the word ‘butterly’.  Didn’t find it? You won’t. In any dictionary. Yet the most famous tagline is “Utterly, Butterly, Amul”. 

See how clear the message is. It instantly connects the reader to an idea how butter should be.  See the flow; so smooth. Your boss, your boss’s boss and the head of medical affairs will object and reject it.

Nonsense, your boss may shout. They will argue that it doesn’t make sense. But stay steadfast. Use your superior logic to overcome these objections. Give the example of Amul. Or of KFC – “Today Tastes So Good”. Your boss may argue and ask, “Vivek, have you ever tasted ‘today’?”   

Even the most accomplished copywriters receive help from the editing process. They need revisions and editing to polish their work. Editing helps you refine ideas, improve clarity, drop errors, and enhance the overall quality of the headline or the tagline. (By the way, I edited this blog and rewrote it nine times. And I would still hesitate to say “It is perfect”.) 

Case Study 4

Take my book “The Romantic Brand: The Darling of Doctors”. I sent the first cut of the manuscript of my book for editing to my friend and digital mentor, Dr. Swati Sinha. After precisely 5 days she said, “Vivek, you write good lullabies. I have gone through the first chapter and one quarter of the second. I won’t read it further.  The book is dull, boring, and dreary. You will not sell a single copy,” she said sternly. She almost said “Vivek, are you a boring university professor writing a textbook for B-school students?” (Of course, she didn’t say that; out of respect for my age, but the thought in her mind was loud and crystal clear). And she went on to give the reasons. It took me 9 long months to rewrite the book. It then went on to become a big hit. 

Of course, some people do have a natural flair for copywriting, Yet, that’s the power of editing and having a good editor. 

7.  Writers are born, not made

Ah, ah! The age-old debate: Are copywriters born or made? Well, let me tell you, that the statement that ‘there are born copywriters’ is about as believable as a baby elephant sitting next to you at Madras Cafe and enjoying a masala dosa.

Now picture this: a group of newborn babies, wrapped in their literary genius, chatting about a plot, twists in a medico-marketing copy in baby babble.

Hilarious, right? They are all born medico-marketing copywriters. 

Copywriting, my friends, is a skill just like learning to walk or drive a two-wheeler or mastering the art of eating Japanese food with chopsticks. But that someone ordinary like me can’t wield a pen (or a keyboard) and create copywriting magic is not true.

I am still an ordinary writer, nay, a learner. But I have some wonderful people and their books from whom I have learned to write medico-marketing headlines and taglines. David Ogilvy, Joe Sugarman, Robert W. Bly, Piyush Pande and Sylvester daCunha to name a few. 

Remember, that these 7 myths are misconceptions and should not discourage you from writing good headlines and taglines for your brand. Unlike in the west, in Bangladesh and India, copywriting is done by the brand managers themselves. Those who put efforts to learn on their own, will immensely be rewarded.

Medico-marketing copywriting requires dedication, practice, and a willingness to continuously learn and grow. Copywriting is a craft that can be developed and improved with practice, persistence, and a willingness to learn. Don’t be discouraged by these 7 myths. 

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