Health Brands Face Rigid Restrictions in Brazil

The health sector in Brazil is changing rapidly. Over the last decade, the country’s economy has experienced more ups and downs than a whack-a-mole carnival game, which has ultimately brought 40 million more people into the middle class, now estimated to be a considerable 120 million of the 210 million total population of Brazil. To healthcare marketers, this means increased disposable income for spending.

In 1988, Brazil established its Unified Health System (SUS), essentially free public healthcare, which is used by 80 percent of citizens today. Yet many complain that the system has delayed assistance and poor quality of care, causing the remaining 20 percent of the country to opt for private health insurance.

It’s not a surprise when we look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer results from Brazil, we see a considerable 53 percent vs. 42 percent variance in trust of the healthcare industry between the informed public and the mass population. This is likely influenced by public vs. private healthcare recipients and the disparity of classes in Brazil.

Marketing restrictions on medications

With the World Health Organization assessing 29 percent of the deaths in Brazil are caused by drug intoxication, a large share as result from self-medication, the Brazilian Ministry of Health justly treats drug promotion as a sensitive matter.

In an effort to address the situation and moderate the indiscriminate consumption of drugs, marketing campaigns are subject to firm restrictions from municipal, state and federal governments, depending on their classification into two groups: those which can only be prescribed by a doctor and over-the-counter medicines that can be sold to anyone.

Doctor prescribed medication

Any promotion for prescribed medications are limited to trade publications with industry professionals and health institutions as target readership. This limitation is comprehensive across media platforms, including broadcast, print, online and social networks. Accordingly, brands marketing these products run into huge awareness issues with consumers in Brazil.

The exception is with generic drugs, which only use the drug’s chemical name describing the atomic or molecular structure, rather than a commercial name. These drugs can be promoted in campaigns sponsored by the Ministry of Health in specific retail locations.

Over-the-counter medication

Similar to many developed countries, over-the-counter drugs can be sold to anyone in Brazil without a doctor’s prescription, however marketing of these medications is still subject to many restrictions.

It’s important to review the guidelines in detail before developing a strategy or campaign. Some unusual examples include:

  • Advertisements cannot show characters that found in the use of drugs the solution for emotional or mood problems.
  • Context cannot suggest the drug will cure or prevent any disease that should be treated under medical supervision.
  • Promotions cannot encourage the use of drugs by children nor be directed towards them.
  • Any promotion must include legal language to disclose the drug’s adverse effects.

Manage expectations

No matter which health sector your clients are in, hospitals, biotech, consumer health, insurance or pharmaceuticals, government regulations are very strict and it’s important to conduct thorough research before making decisions. Traditional and digital strategies will need to be adjusted to reach affluent vs. mass audiences, and expect Brazilians to take quickly to social media when they have issues finding or using products.

Health brands often bring their products to the Brazil market and attempt to implement global advertising campaigns. It’s important to set expectations early with global leaders and adapt campaigns to adhere to regulations. Planners should look at what competitors in the market are doing and if it seems to provide value. Depending on the brand, product and goals, traditional consumer marketing campaigns may not be the most effective use of budget in Brazil.

The best first step is to reach out to our health team in Brazil. They have vast experience working with brands across various sectors and can provide useful POV for nearly any situation.

Drew Cary is a 2016 Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellow for Edelman’s Digital team in São Paulo, originally from Los Angeles.