Patricia Corsi

Chief Marketing & Digital Officer Consumer Health
“I don't think that healthcare marketing was ever very compelling”
Bayer is famous for introducing the world to aspirin back in 1899. Nowadays, Bayer is a giant worldwide supplier of medication employing almost 100.000 people. Globally, the health industry is rated 8th on creativity within advertising campaigns. Bayer aims to change this. Recently, they have taken a more emotional approach as opposed to rationality in their marketing. Besides creativity, Patricia is also a strong supporter of women and diversity in business. How does she cope with the challenges? And what is there to take away for you? Hear from the CMO of Bayer in episode 8 of CMOtalk!

Patricia Corsi, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer Consumer Health at Bayer, talks about creativity, diversity, and how the health industry can connect better with consumers.
Your bio says that it’s important to connect with the beating hearts of the people you're trying to help and reach. How do you put this into practice at Bayer? 
‘The health industry has not been known for being creative or for connecting to people. When people talk about health products' advertising, they talk about those endless regulatory messages at the end. They never talk about how great it is, how it changes our behaviour, how we’re going to get healthier, or how it can help others. Being close to the beating hearts of people is trying to understand what they need and how can we help them in their daily routines, versus just applying corny formulas. We shouldn’t think that everyone listens just because we talk about health. That is not the reality.’

Have companies like yours been blinding customers with science, instead of speaking to them on an emotional level?
‘The intention was not to blind them but to reassure them through science, to show people that brilliant minds have really researched this. The recently launched Edelman Trust Barometer shows that doctors and scientists are among the most trusted people. There is a reason for that. But the language they speak sometimes doesn't connect with what people understand. Marketing can change behaviour but only if you connect in a way that people really understand what it means for them. Bayer's motto is: science for a better life.’
So, the old healthcare marketing, with a focus on rational argumentation, is not working anymore? 
‘I challenge if it ever worked. Within the top 10 industries globally, health ranks number eight in creativity. Then think about the penetration and distribution of products that can help improve people’s health, especially now that we’re dealing with Covid. People should think about boosting their immunity every day, the same way they think about having breakfast. But it doesn't work like that. I don't think that healthcare marketing was ever very compelling. This is a fantastic moment for us to change that.’

How are you shaping this strategy at Bayer? 
‘Firstly, we are moving from what scientists are telling us to what consumers understand. Sometimes this is an industry driven by claims. Scientifically this makes a lot of sense but the consumer doesn't understand what it means. In detergents you can say that a product cleans 30 percent better than the competitor. But this doesn’t work for health; you don't get 30 percent less fever than with another product. Secondly, we need to engage people to improve their lives. For instance, in Brazil 30 percent of women are ashamed of mentioning the word vagina to a doctor. But you simply can’t say that you have a problem in your boo-boo. So we partnered with TikTok and with a lot of women that could help deliver the communication in a relatable way. For this, we first needed to decensor the word ‘vagina' on TikTok. It's ridiculous, but in some countries it still is a banned word. We then started an educational program called Vagina Academy, which included a Vagina Bus that would go up to the favelas. In the end, you can have a leader product but it doesn’t help consumers if they are too embarrassed to buy it. Solving this problem is very rewarding. We are now top performers on TikTok. It's a global case with benchmarks and we’re taking it to many other countries in order to help many more women.’

Did it actually change women’s behaviour? 
‘Yeah, in one country we created a bot and women are now asking their questions without being afraid of what people will think of them. This can direct them either to a pharmacy or to a doctor, depending on their problem.’
This campaign ran largely on TikTok and Instagram. What about the older generations that are perhaps not on these platforms?
‘The older generations are generally more versed to go to the doctor. When we are younger, we believe ourselves invincible and taking care of one’s health is a taboo. When you look at the stats, most people go to the doctor when they’re older and already have a problem. As an industry we can help with lots of things, such as pain relief, but it has to start much earlier. We are really focusing on how to educate the next generation and how to prevent treatment through exercise, healthy eating and sleeping. These are three of the best medicines in the world.’

Meds need to meet strict regulation guidelines and consumers need to be well-informed. This also applies to packaging and communication. Is creative communication always conditional in the consumer healthcare business?
‘It is, but it doesn't need to be boring, corny or commonplace. It doesn't need to be sloppy either. For instance, how can we improve the experience of opening a product? I always say that the biggest space you have is inside the packaging. When people open it, all they see is a blank space. One tea brand, for instance, put a message on the tags of its tea bags. While you're waiting for your tea to brew, you look at that tag because you have nothing else to do. Perhaps this is a silly example but it got me a bit closer to that tea brand. So, I love the packaging communication experience. Marketing is really getting into the depths, darks and lights of the human brain. I'm always looking for the opportunities of a situation.’
In health industry you’re probably dealing with lawyers quite a lot, telling you what you can and can't say. Do lawyers kill creativity? 
‘No, the best lawyers and regulators act as partners. They don't tell you: don't do that. They tell you what happens if you do do that. And sometimes the answer is: you’ll go to jail. So, they are not treating me like an imbecile. But I think marketing works really well within constraints. And that’s a good thing.’

You're a strong supporter of diversity and inclusion and you’re part of the Unstereotype Alliance. Should inclusion be the starting point of each creative process?
‘Yes, if it's an afterthought then it's not genuine. You must have people that will be identified with those they are representing. This is part of the intrinsic briefing. Diversity is something that is very easy to speak of, but not that easy to do. Being part of the Unstereotype Alliance is a serious thing for me. One of the questions I asked the team was: how do you portray sexual preference in a way that is not biased? Whatever you do in terms of the visual representation of that can be very stereotypical. For example, all gay men you see are married. And they all seem to have adopted children. It’s as if single gay people don’t exist.’
How do you avoid that sort of stereotyping in advertising?
‘By informing ourselves. All of us in marketing have to be very humble and recognize that we need to ask more questions. I am a very big proponent of being more inquisitive, asking questions and being humble. This includes asking experts and surrounding myself with people that know things better than I do.’

How are you approaching the metaverse and preparing your team to tackle the new space?
‘Again, the first thing I do is educate myself. I'm surrounding myself with partners that understand this world. It's very easy to put those things in boxes and say: this is virtual reality, this is NFT’s, this is crypto, etc. But at the end of the day, I want to understand it first, including the potential risks, the development, and how it can be used for the greater good of the people that we serve. That’s more important than trying to be the first health company that dives into this. So I educate myself and share the learnings with my company’s leadership team, because I want everyone to be in the same place that I am. After that we’ll say: how does this make our consumers' lives better? And if there is an opportunity in there, then we will definitely pursue it.’
How important are the Effie Awards and Cannes Lions to you?
‘They both have a very important role to play. This industry is in the middle of a great breaking point. Most people are talking about marketing as something that does bad things. I see Effies and Cannes as opportunities for all of us to look at what's best out there and to inspire ourselves to be better. We need more people in marketing to look at the awards as inspiration, not just as trophies. These events should be less about glamour and more about the work.’

Which campaigns have inspired you in terms of creativity?
‘I love Dumb Ways to Die, the Australian campaign for Metro Train safety. It demonstrates how to get a very simple message across in a lasting way. I also love The Tampon Book, because of how cleverly it addresses the unfair taxation on tampons. It won a lot of awards. In the jury of Cannes, last year, we awarded a couple of medals to Steal Our Staff. It's a fantastic campaign that shows how you don't need to be a big company to do what's right. And finally I’d like to mention WeThe15, which raises attention for the 15 per cent of the global population that live with a disability.’

As a businesswoman from Brazil, have you experienced any stereotyping yourself?
‘Being Latin, there are so many stereotypes. It makes me laugh sometimes. We are too happy, we talk loudly, we are always late. But my Brazility is my superpower. It has always been an asset to me. When I'm happy, I'm very proud to be happy. When I communicate what I’m thinking, then I'm happy for that as well. And I have adapted myself not to be late.’

You say on LinkedIn that you work towards making yourself uncomfortable at least once a week. What made you uncomfortable last week?
‘Two things. I have butterflies in my stomach because I've been named jury president for Cannes this year. I'm very excited about that but also uncomfortable. I think I'm one of the few Brazilians to have had this honour. On a personal level, I had knee surgery so I'm re-learning how to walk and this is very challenging.’

Finally, what's your advice for starting marketers?

‘Be courageous. There was a singer in Brazil who said; take one step ahead and already you are not in the same place. So, being courageous means taking that step, even if you don't know what's ahead. What makes marketing wonderful is the courage to do different and to do better for the people that we serve.’
About Patricia Corsi
Patricia is the Global Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Bayer. Previously she worked at Sony, Kraft/Mondelēz, Unilever and Heineken. Throughout her career she received many honours during, including the Effie advertiser of the year, the 2020 AdLatina Award and a 2021 Adweek top 30 CMO. As part of the Unstereotype Alliance, Patricia is a strong supporter of women and diversity in business.

About Bayer
Bayer introduced the aspirin back in 1899. Today, Bayer is a multinational pharmaceutical and life sciences company. It’s one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, employing almost 100,000 people globally. Headquartered in Leverkusen, the company’s areas of business include pharmaceuticals, consumer healthcare products, agricultural chemicals, seeds and biotechnology products.
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