Philadelpha, PA — Think of an industry that’s highly regulated. One that’s traditionally very conservative. Not known for its creativity.

I know what you’re thinking: Pharma.

Bill Drummy, Founder and CEO of Heartbeat Ideas, is thinking about another one: Insurance.

In fact, he said, you may think you work in the world’s most boring industry.

But, that’s insurance.

You work in the second most boring industry.

Take a look at the roots of insurance advertising:

Jump to 1999 when GEICO ran this:

GEICO, you probably don’t know, stands for the Government Employee’s Insurance Company. Its roots: as boring as they get. But instead of running the same play as the rest of the industry, they broke out and did something new. They knew they couldn’t win by following the leader.

And look how they’ve evolved since then:


They didn’t just change their own advertising, they pushed the industry to be bolder.




GEICO made an entire industry more interesting.

The lessons for pharma?

  1. No industry has to be boring. We have accepted a level of creativity in the pharma industry that we shouldn’t accept and don’t have to accept. We can challenge that thinking and do more interesting things.
  2. Consistency wins. Geico did something most pharma brands don’t: they committed to a position and stuck with it through campaign after campaign.
  3.  We need to act like underdogs. That’s what Geico did – they stopped fighting on the competitors’ terms and tried a new strategy. Drummy shared some data from 200 years of warfare. It showed that when the stronger actor and weaker actor use the same approach, the stronger actor won 78 times to the underdog’s 32. But when they used opposite approaches, the underdog won 63 times to the stronger actor’s 38. Going guerrilla virtually flipped the win rate.


Drummy shared two examples from their own work that show GEICO-style creativity and innovation in pharma advertising.

The first was the big Cannes Grand Prix winner:

AstraZeneca needed to establish interest in a tired category prior to launch and get people talking about triglycerides again. So, they took an entirely different approach from their competitors and introduced these two slimy co-stars.


The other was a simple digital display campaign that seamlessly connected unbranded and branded.

The restless leg unbranded campaign used expandable display ads about the symptoms: bedtime is the worst time for restless legs. They led with the challenge (disease state education). Only when a user clicked through to the solution (the product) did they have to display the ISI.

Since the start of the campaign, the brand saw a 40% increase in sales. And, they topped peek GSK sales with 1/7th of the sales force.

Good stuff.

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.