The future of medicines

Since a long time, science knows that placebo is over 50% of the effect of medicines and drugs, including coffee. Still most products in this area rely on chemical performance.

This is my first example of how many product areas develop: initially focus on physical performance, then presentation and handling and after that experience and meaning. It all goes hand in hand with the established marketing and motivation theories*.

Typical modernistic medicine (above). Tasteful and practical packaging. This is what I mean by something that just ”is”. A pill is a pill. The whole value is considered to be hidden in the substance. Your doctor will tell you what medicine to use. Cause-and-effect proven by science. Some branding effect in the well known name. But any additions of pictures, promises or other experience elements would actually be considered immoral, even if they might enhance the medical effect.

Then, of course, there is fair amount of credibility in this dry and simplistic presentation. But is it an active design choise, based on what gives the best experience and effect? I don’t think so.

French day and night pills for colds (above). User oriented presentation makes the use easier. Choise of colours and materials make the white pills look better. The presentation is more elegant and ”selling”. But the pill is still a pill.

”Hollywood.” American cold medicine full of promises and experience. Large colourful box, large colourful capsules. Focus on the user experience and sense of value.

In Sweden we just recently dropped the monopoly of pharmacies. Soon we will be able to buy some medicines in supermarkets. Medicine will be increasingly treated as consumer products when people are to make their own choises off the shelf.

Is ”Hollywood” medicine the next step? Or rather experience oriented, placebo-enhancing, simple to use and understand, value-added medicine?

*) Maslow, Herzberg, Peters/Waterman jr, Mayo, Levitt, Ries, Trout, Negroponte and most others…

  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2. By Josef Conning on mar 3, 2010 | Reply

    Really interesting! I just recently did a scenario exercise about the future (legal) drug market, actually. I definately think you’re on to something. For instance, given the uncertainties shorter patent periods (which would lead to a quality decrease) and lower subsidizations (which would make drugs more expensive for consumers) come true, I believe placebo drugs and crowd-pleasing (borderline vulgar) marketing could be the way to go for drug manufacturers. Would be interesting to discuss this further some time.

  3. By Helena on mar 3, 2010 | Reply

    In sociology we describe this phenomenon with the help of Thomas teorem: ”If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequenses”. (Thomas & Thomas 1928)

    Did you know that in most of Africa people prefer injections before pills?

  4. By Olle Torgny on mar 3, 2010 | Reply

    Would injections be just as efficient if they weren’t painful and scary?

  5. By Helena on mar 21, 2010 | Reply

    Again, I think you are seeing an evolution or a shift where there is none. Check out BBC documentary ”Professor Regan’s Medicine Cabinet” ( ; see also SVT; programme aired again March 23, at 20.00H) where she shows that pharmacies in UK need to carry BOTH branded AND generic pain-killers, since different customers have different preferences. The placebo effect is real, yes, but has ALWAYS been a part of traditional medicine. It is nothing new!

  6. By Olle Torgny on mar 21, 2010 | Reply

    It appears to be more about adding aspects than a complete shift from one thing to the other. This is why I think you can apply Maslows model on these areas (as I discussed here). I can see this shift of focus, experience being added to the basics, in many areas.
    Medicine is an obvious area which the modernists reduced to physical and chemical effect, while ignoring the placebo effect that was there all the time. Many things around us have emerged during the modernistic/industrial era so we have no pre industrial examples to study. But in pharmaceuticals we do, like in architecture. Examples are welcome!

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