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Pharma Company Uses Nudges to Triple Sales

Irrational Agency assists a pharmaceutical company in helping nudge doctors towards prescribing an updated version of a product.

Editor’s Note: Every year, participants in the GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report survey vote for the most innovative companies in market research. In Insights That Work, these top companies share the real-life challenges and solutions of their biggest clients.


One of the client’s key products, a multi-billion dollar blockbuster drug, was faced with patent expiry in the US. The company, with $7 billion of revenue at risk, developed and launched a new product to replace it. But sales were not meeting targets, because doctors were sticking with old habits instead of adopting the new, better treatment.

Irrational Agency was commissioned to develop nudges to help overcome this clinical inertia.

The goals : keep the product at the front of mind for doctors, make it easier and more intuitive to prescribe it, and help sales growth to take off.

A nudge is a change to how a product is presented, or how a choice is offered to doctors, without altering the product or price. Nudges are a powerful tool in pharmaceuticals because changing the product or even the key disclosure information, needs expensive clinical trials and the approval of the FDA. Nudges can influence doctors’ decisions without making regulatory changes.


Traditional research finds it difficult to predict behavior change because doctors (like any consumer) can’t predict what they would do when faced with a new marketing message. The research process used a state-of-the-art behavioral research design to overcome this challenge, drilling into true behavior and nonconscious drivers of doctors and patients:

  1. Observing 60 physician interviews to understand barriers and drivers for prescribing
  2. 30 cognitive-behavioral interviews to explore latent barriers and generate potential solutions
  3. Deep dive into scientific psychology literature to identify behavior change levers
  4. Co-creation workshops with the client to refine 100 potential nudges down to 20
  5. The core of the method was a simulated RCT (randomized control trial). This tested all the nudges at high speed (within a 2-week period as compared to an 18-month field trial) with 350 doctors. Each doctor saw 50 simulated patient scenarios, making choices under time pressure, to measure how their prescribing behavior changes after seeing each nudge. (This method was built on Irrational Agency’s unique Behavioral Conjoint technology, which creates realistic decision scenarios for doctors (or consumers) while measuring all variables of interest to the client.)
  6. Recommendation of the 4 most impactful nudges and assistance in redesigning sales collateral

The research approach was very successful in this specific healthcare scenario but is also ideal for other categories, including CPG, finance, retail, and e-commerce.


Irrational Agency’s process produced new creative nudges that

  1. Help doctors visualize the positive efficacy and distinct benefits of the product (using “System 3”, their imaginative capability) instead of the risks
  2. Encourage doctors to commit in advance to a treatment algorithm based on the new product
  3. Help doctors instantly recognize the patient type who needs this medicine

The client incorporated the new nudges into revised sales collateral. In the first quarter of the new strategy, revenue increased by two hundred percent – a tripling of sales volume. Using nudges revolutionized the product’s success, with no extra spend on advertising or price promotions. This research transformed the prospects for a key strategic product for a global client.


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One response to “Pharma Company Uses Nudges to Triple Sales

  1. Does anyone possibly believe that advertising can increase sales by 200%? If you gave the product away for a week you’d only increase sales by 2%.

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