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A good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer around five years ago. Understandably frightened, she hit the net to research her options and soon found a great – couldn’t put it down – read over and over, story. There was a villain, a saint, David, Goliath, conspiracies and an almost miraculous happy ending. The plot was intriguing, “Big Bad Pharma” knows the cure to cancer but can’t make money out of it; “Big Bad Pharma” does everything it can to denounce the little guys who have found the miracle cure through alternative medicines and holistic practices.

Spurred on by the negative and highly emotive stories telling how pharma companies employ only evil and calculating scientists waiting to get rich, and Dianna from London who beat her cancer by eating only raw food and suffering three colonics a day for five years, my friend rejected all forms of conventional treatment. Despite not being offered a scrap of scientific research or evidence, she spent what little she had on detoxification retreats, colonics and ”healthy” green powders. The cost was staggering and well beyond her means, but it was still the “Big Bad Pharma” who were getting rich. The irony escaped her.

Such was the power of the stories she read, my friend literally bet her life on them. Unaffected by gallons of juice and health potions, the cancer spread and she died.

As a brand and marketing consultant, I’m not surprised at the power of a great story, but I am fascinated at just how this particular book case has grown. The alternative health industry and people who spend their lives practicing in the hope of saving relatively few lives, are the modern day hero storytellers. In contrast, the Pharma industry and those men and women who devote their careers and often invest millions (billions if you’re Bill and Melinda Gates) of their own money finding ways to save literally a planet of lives are the villains with relatively little to say.

Regulations in many countries forbid drug companies advertising their products – and if you look at the quality and number of drug ads in the USA we should be grateful – but Pharma as a brand appears to have lost all connection to its consumers. Devoid of any deep connection with its raison d’être, people make their own story up about the Pharma brand. And compared with the very human, organic and highly engaging story of the alternative health movement, is it any wonder that Pharma’s brand story has become so poisonous; their brand identity hijacked.

Perhaps the reason for the obvious lack of positive stories comes from the fact that there is no agreement on the need. In an international survey published by Eye for Pharma this month (August 2014), which spoke to close to 1,000 Pharma executives, 36 per cent agreed that industry reputation was improving. However, close to 40 per cent said they were not sure and 26 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed. The question of whether the industry knows what to do to improve its reputation also split respondents, with 46 per cent agreeing that it does but 24 per cent saying it does not and 31 per cent in the unsure or neutral category. For an industry built on precision and absolutes those results tell a story of navel gazing, confusion and abandonment.

The big players of the industry have a responsibility for their brand and how it’s perceived not just internally by government bodies and regulatory watchdogs but the people they serve: the scientists; customers; employees; investors; and people, like my friend, who, at a time when she most needed someone, a brand to connect with, found Pharma looking the other way.

Maybe the current Pharma brand story doesn’t matter. Perhaps it doesn’t affect employee morale. Perhaps it doesn’t impact the talent it attracts. Perhaps it doesn’t de-value people’s work and ethics. Perhaps it doesn’t allow other less scrupulous brands to offer fairy-tale endings. But then again, perhaps it does.