Does Emotion-Based Marketing Work for Clinical Trial Patient Recruitment?

Patients are more likely to take action for their health after seeing ads that trigger fear and hope, according to new research in the 2018 Wunderman Health Inertia Study. While healthcare marketers typically jump at the chance to test out new research findings with their own audience, those who communicate clinical trial opportunities to patients may pause.

In clinical trial patient recruitment advertising, following strict FDA guidelines and IRB approved materials is critical. According to the FDA, recruitment materials can’t be "overly coercive." FDA guidelines also require that ads avoid referring to "new treatments" or use other language that suggest the treatment has already been found safe and effective.

These guidelines preclude language that evokes the hope of a new treatment, or the fear of missing out on a better option. But taking a closer look at the results of the study, they may still offer an angle that patient recruiters can test out in outreach materials.

The study focused on motivating current smokers to create a plan to quit. First, researchers asked participants which drivers were the most motivating for them. Researchers showed participants ads that fell onto a grid related to an emotional motivator – fear, joy, and hope – along with a lifestyle driver, such as "achieving social connections."

While the most effective ads were those that elicited fear or hope, the study found that the patient's individual driver typically played the biggest role. For example, when people motivated by a desire to achieve family security were exposed to the ads that reflected that desire, they were 16% more likely to say, "I am going to create a plan to quit smoking," compared with those who saw the control ad from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

There's no doubt emotions are powerful, but the study suggests that creating advertising that reflects a patient's values matters the most.

In CISCRP surveys, patients most often cite advancing science and improving the lives of others living with their condition as their top motivators for participating in research. Only 5% of those surveyed, in comparison, listed financial compensation as the biggest benefit. Before starting any recruitment campaign, experienced clinical trial marketers take the time to understand their specific patient population and what may motivate them to join the trial.

"In my experience, patient recruitment ads can be empathetic without being manipulative," says Nancy Ryerson, digital marketing manager at Antidote. "Start by researching your patient population to understand their needs and why they might want to participate, and build your outreach materials from there."

While it's always interesting to read about the latest marketing research, patient recruitment efforts are only successful when individual patient experiences are taken into account. From there, recruiters can make meaningful connections between patients and research.