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What Exactly is Unbranded Content in Pharma and Why Do We Care

The definition of unbranded content is topic-led marketing communications produced by brands, but without any explicit mention of who they are. This type of marketing is prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, unbranded content in pharma is a huge tactic big brands use to educate and engage patients, while embracing the flexibility of operating mostly outside the FDA’s purview.

Unbranded content is not unique to the pharmaceutical industry. Companies across multiple categories use it in some way, including cosmetics, beverage, household products, food, political lobbying groups, and lifestyle brands. Yet, the pharma industry represents the most prolific use of unbranded content in today’s market.

Reasons Why Unbranded Content Makes Sense

Unbranded Content

The FDA imposes strict and severe regulations governing advertising in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly to “direct-to-consumers”. This includes prescription and non-prescription drugs.

Regulations differ based upon the type of messaging conveyed. Some require a complete listing of side effects, some do not.

In some cases, all language needs to be approved by the FDA in order to be published.

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They vary based on the target audience – is the advertising direct-to-consumer or to the healthcare provider?

Some advertising platforms flat out ban pharma marketing, though this has been shifting in recent years to help accommodate pharma advertisers (and access their giant budgets).

In fact, worldwide, pharmaceutical marketing is so regulated that only 2 countries even allow direct to consumer advertising in any form: New Zealand and the United States.

All of the above makes it extremely tricky for pharma brands to communicate effectively with consumers.

This is where unbranded content demonstrates its value.

FDA regulations come into play when a specific brand is being promoted. Communicating via unbranded content gets around these strict regulations and allows brands more freedom in how they engage with consumers.

Not only does this present powerful benefits for pharma brands, but consumers derive benefits as well.

Brand Benefits in Using Unbranded Content

Brand Benefits Unbranded Content

There are a significant amount of benefits to pursuing an unbranded content marketing strategy for pharma brands.

Brand reputation management

Big Pharma” tends to have a negative association attached to it, regardless of their individual history. With that in mind, when consumers ingest communication on drug-branded websites, there is an inherent layer of skepticism built in. They know they are being “sold,” so are less willing to take information at face value.

When drug manufacturers take a step away from the brand-heavy sales machine, they create an opening for developing a back and forth relationship with patients. They can develop trust, which is the first step to improving reputation in today’s world.

Build awareness for disease or problem

This is the biggie.

Building awareness and educating patients is the primary usage of unbranded content. Unbranded sites provide a neutral area for symptom sufferers to learn more about what they are feeling and what this means for them in the short and long term.

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Consumers are more likely to seek diagnosis if they realize what they are feeling may be part of a bigger picture.

Providing an educational resource, that doesn’t push a specific brand every other sentence makes the content seem more trustworthy. Helpful information, dispensed from a seemingly neutral source, tends to be viewed as a gesture of goodwill and support, rather than a thinly veiled advertising scheme.

Subtle reinforcement

Successful unbranded content offers a gentle entrypoint for brands to join the conversation with consumers. Hitting them over the head with blatant advertising is the fastest way to get shut down. However, using a mix of educational content, community building, responsive listening and other more subtle unbranded methods can foster a willingness to engage with your brand.

Access a wider audience

How often have you found yourself sharing an advertising message, whether its a video or a website? Probably not too often.

How about an emotional tear-jerking video about someone’s story as the deal with a migraine and the debilitating effect it has had on their family? Or a resource that helps you quit smoking faster by tracking your habits and rewarding you for minor victories?

Unbranded content is eminently more shareable. People feel uncomfortable sharing obvious ads. Whereas with unbranded content, consumers feel like they are sharing informative content or valuable information.

Communicate during the entire patient journey

If you have been diagnosed with high-blood pressure, you may just Google Lipitor or go straight to their website. These consumers are already at or near the end of their cycle – they have a diagnosis and have been prescribed or are about to be prescribed a specific drug.

Branded content is perfect for them.

But then there are the consumers who have an occasional fever and sometimes their knees feel weird.

They don’t know what they have.

Today’s consumers are digital doctors, diagnosing themselves before they ever see a real prescriber. They are looking up symptoms on the Internet, not brands. So putting all your marketing efforts behind your brand name won’t help you reach them when they search online.

An unbranded content website, such as, that focuses on the symptoms allows pharma brands to reach patients earlier in their journey. Drug manufacturers can engage patients before they have been diagnosed and steer the conversation.

This may translate into a faster time to diagnosis, the ability to direct patients to doctors more favorable to the brand or simply building trust and awareness in new patients.

Drive leads for brand CRM

If done well, unbranded content can be a massive lead generator. Whether collecting email addresses in order to download white papers or research studies, collecting data from surveys or simply collecting names for a newsletter update, unbranded content can drive many branded marketing initiatives.

Consumers are much more likely to provide their contact information to neutral seeming sources than branded ones. You will still have to undergo the same opt-in requirements as across any industry, of course.

Push traffic to partner healthcare providers

healthcare providers
Do you already have doctors and healthcare providers that are prescribing your medicine? While you won’t be using unbranded content to directly promote your drug, you can use it to highlight specialists that you know believe in your product.

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Driving referrals to prescribers not only creates a favorable relationship with HCPs, but can directly increase your brand’s visibility and reputation.

Reduces regulation and oversight, increasing speed to market

The FDA does not directly regulate unbranded content sites. This means brands have more freedom to engage with consumers in a natural way. Blogs, coping tips, humor, differing tones of voice, testimonials, interviews and numerous other content pieces are all fair game.

This can even include content that doesn’t fit within the specific indication approved with the FDA.

That said, brands have to ensure that these places stay unbranded. The FDA has been known to jump in and claim that unbranded sites are not actually indirect enough. These sites then become subject to the same regulations as traditional branded pharma sites.

Patient Benefits to Unbranded Content from Pharma Companies

The benefit of unbranded pharma sites is not purely for the manufacturer though. Patients derive a significant benefit from these resources, as well.

For example:

Can establish a support community

Many unbranded pharma microsites offer a robust community forum. Whether this is through a companion social media account, through in-blog comments or a more overt on-page forum, the ability for patients to interact with fellow sufferers is invaluable.

Learn without pressure

Unbranded content pages encourage patients to browse and engage. The information provided to them is relevant. Other people going through the same thing as them are providing feedback.

Often content on unbranded pharma sites is written or presented in a more accessible way. Doctors and brands can speak more “human” and less “medical” to patients, which helps improve understanding and comfort levels.

Share knowledge with family and supporter base

Many unbranded content microsites provide educational information tailored specifically to a patient’s family and friends. This may feature topics such as “how to help support them during the next phase” or “what sort of physical, emotional or mental changes to expect”, or simply connect them with other caregivers.

Further, the unbranded content site is inherently more shareable, addressing more relevant topics than branded sites. Patients will find it easier to direct their support system to these types of sites, rather than brand-centric ones.

Access possible value-added features

Many of the most recent unbranded content sites in pharma differentiate themselves by offering myriad value-add capabilities. From apps to calculators to quizzes to planning guides and calendars to daily reminders and tips, pharma brands are finding innovative ways to provide benefits to consumers in subtle, yet useful ways.

Formats of Unbranded Content

Most commonly, unbranded content can be seen in the form of microsites, with additional communications all driving to this centralized hub.

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These unbranded microsites often include:

  • Blogs
  • Q&A
  • News
  • Research
  • Tools & Resources
  • Recipes
  • Testimonials
  • Interviews
  • Doctor Locator

Unbranded pharma advertising and messaging is not limited to microsites. Social media pages, display ads, outdoor advertising, emails, keyword search advertising and print or broadcast advertising are all viable options, depending upon the brand’s budget.

Examples of Unbranded Content in Pharma

The pharma industry has led the way when it comes to unbranded content. While other categories do utilize this technique, none do it as well as pharma.

Some examples of the best current unbranded content in pharma include:

Quitter’s Circle

Pfizer and the American Lung Association publish Quitter’s Circle, a site dedicated to helping people stop smoking. The site includes content areas for both the smoker and the smoker’s support group. Articles provide useful and engaging tips from all aspects, including getting ready to quit, how to keep cigarette free, ways to avoid regression and backsliding and a slew of other topics relevant to the process.

It offers a page on Facebook with 150K+ followers, dedicated to fostering community and support for quitters.

Smokers can download PDFs of helpful information and quitting strategies.

Consumers can even download an app that helps you plan your Quit Date. It will provide daily check ins to help you meet your goal. An in-app forum helps you find like-minded individuals to support you along the way. Articles, tips, inspirational quotes and more are all featured to help you along your journey.

At the same time, Pfizer collects your email and basic demographics to use in their branded marketing efforts.

2. Join Gen S

Join Gen S

Join Gen S is an unbranded content site from pharma giant Novartis. The site focuses on Sickle Cell Disease. They have a celebrity spokesperson, Jordin Sparks (of American Idol fame), prominently featured on the home page.

The site focuses on sharing stories and building community with fellow sufferers. Articles and tips for Sickle Cell Disease help educate consumers about the disease. A doctor locator helps patients find specialists in their area.

3. Lungs and You

Lungs & You

This unbranded content site from Boehringer Ingleheim tackles IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis). Lungs and You is a meaty site offering educational information about living with and managing life with IPF. Additional resources include a community hotline, doctor finder, disease comparison guide and numerous videos to help understand life with IPF.



This pharma unbranded content site is dedicated cystic fibrosis and hosted by Allergan. The Live2Thrive site is unique in that it has created a program for patients, which includes a loyalty and rewards program, a vitamins and supplements program, incentives to keep up a healthy lifestyle and recipes designed for CF patients to provide the nutrients they need.

It really embraces the community of CF sufferers and their families, with different sections dedicated to infants and children, teens, adults and parents.

Unbranded Content in Pharma Strategy and Execution

When it comes down to it, pharma brands need to diversify their marketing efforts. A strategic blend of branded and unbranded marketing efforts offers the most effective solution for reaching consumers, while they are in the information gathering stage all the way through the diagnosis phase. In the US, pharma brands need to concentrate on both consumers and HCPs in order to satisfy both the prescription drivers.

If you are looking to explore how unbranded content can fuel demand for your pharma products, talk to the experts at CMDS. Give us a call at 732-706-5555 or email We can help develop the strategy behind your site, write unbranded blogs, and design your supplemental marketing materials.

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