“There’s not so much nonsense in there!”

On the importance of naturalness for the German pharmaceutical discourse.

What are the characteristics of a good drug – and how can I emphasize these characteristics in a marketing strategy? This question concerns not only marketing managers, but also linguists and language strategists in the pharmaceutical sector. But actually, it can never be answered across the board. In reality, there are considerable culture-specific differences in what people expect of a good drug. This is especially true for the framing of drugs on the German market. Many patients want a drug that is as “natural” as possible, and sometimes naturalness is even in the foreground in marketing concepts as a key aspect. We investigated the question of what role the word naturalness plays in the German pharmaceutical discourse. The result: Naturalness can be an effective “gateway” into the German pharmaceutical market – or it can serve to set yourself apart from the competition.

At first glance, the “perfect drug” fulfills a number of obvious requirements: it makes anyone suffering from a certain disease healthy, it alleviates symptoms that can negatively affect the patient’s quality of life, and it causes as few side effects as possible. However, that is not the whole story: In Germany, the naturalness of a drug also plays an important role. Our analysis aimed at the framing of the word natural in the context of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. For this purpose, a German text corpus with more than 100 billion words was analyzed and compared to a British and a US reference corpus. Our study shows that the concepts of health and quality of life in Germany are often associated with the idea of ​​naturalness. In addition, naturalness is linked to other positive concepts ​​such as authenticity, individuality, acceptance, self-acceptance, mindfulness, simplicity, freedom, and autonomy (see the depicted word cloud). The statistical analysis allows conclusions to be drawn about the emotional attitudes of people regarding drugs, to which the characteristic “naturalness” is ascribed. When Germans read that a drug is particularly natural, it arouses positive feelings in them. Words such as gentle, safe, mindful, targeted or individual are particularly strongly associated with naturalness. The own body should not be manipulated or poisoned – drugs should rather work in harmony with the body and help the body in a gentle way. This is also indicated by a phrase that every German has probably heard before: “There’s not so much nonsense in there!” In Germany, natural medicines enjoy particular trust, especially when it comes to safety and tolerability. For many Germans, what is natural is automatically well tolerated and has rather few side effects.

Compared to other languages, the word naturalness is relatively limited to the German discourse; especially in the US discourse, naturalness plays a lesser role. Many of the best-selling products in Germany are already being advertised with a marketing strategy that focuses on naturalness as the most important feature. In German culture, naturalness has a great intrinsic value: Naturalness is a value, an ideal. The words nature and natural are essential for German culture because of the very prominent environmental discourse. “Back to nature” as a framing approach is also used frequently and successfully in the advertising language of other fields, from food to fashion to the cosmetics industry.

Naturalness and tolerability are undoubtedly not the dominant values or narratives ​​in all areas of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, according to our experience, efficacy and usability are more important aspects of good drugs and medical devices. Among consumers of conventional drugs, fficacy is seldom sacrificed for naturalness, whereas naturalness can play a decisive role when there are equally effective drugs on the market. It also appears problematic that advertising for complementary forms of medicine and in particular plant medicine heavily relies on the aspect of naturalness. The way in which naturalness is used as an advertising strategy in German should therefore always be carefully considered. The linguistic analysis shows: In Germany, naturalness is an attitude towards life, especially regarding one’s own health. The special emphasis on naturalness in marketing concepts and language strategies can offer an important advantage when presenting your own products in German-speaking countries.

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