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sanofi-aventis.TV needs to pass the remote

SAtv Every family has a member who is unwilling to relinquish what they view as their proprietorial right to the TV remote control. As a consequence, films will be punctuated with squabbles about adjusting the brightness, whether it is necessary to have Mandarin subtitles rolling, even if one of the viewers is taking a night class, and of course the volume level.  [Full disclosure: in the days when we had a TV, I was That Guy].

It was with some interest, therefore, that I visited sanofi-aventis.TV for the first time yesterday.

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The site is easy to navigate, with big-button links to six different ‘channels’, namely: ‘Spotlight on sanofi-aventis’, ‘Our expertise’, ‘Around the world’, ‘Your health’, ‘Solidarity’, and ‘Working for people’. A number of individual programs can then be selected from a slider on the right hand side of the screen.

There are some useful web 2.0 elements: viewers can share videos they like, vote for them, and sign up to RSS channel feeds.

However, there are to my eyes a number of issues with sanofi-aventis.TV in its current state. Some are minor quibbles, some are rather more serious. Let’s begin by looking at the issues that can be fixed quickly.

Firstly: if you go to the trouble of creating a dedicated @sanofiaventisTV Twitter account and you want to recruit followers, it might be a good idea to tell them about it on the sanofi-aventis.TV homepage…

Secondly: for a platform that doesn’t contain a great deal of content yet, there are an alarming number of quality assurance issues and elements that simply haven’t been reviewed adequately or thought through to their conclusion. For example, I am always a little unnerved by brands that cannot decide how to deploy capital letters when referring to their own company. I usually follow the logo when mentioning a company, and therefore refer to ‘sanofi-aventis’ throughout this piece, but the viewer will find references to both ‘sanofi-aventis’ and ‘Sanofi-aventis’ on sanofi-aventis.TV. I have little doubt that there is probably a reference to ‘Sanofi-Aventis’ in there too if you look hard enough.

Despite the upbeat, inclusive reference to solidarity and inclusivity, it is not possible to leave comments under the videos you choose to watch, although this is perhaps forgivable. Rather more difficult to overlook is the fact that the home page requires viewers to enter their name, gender, email address, age, country and profession in exchange for the opportunity to ‘share’ their expectations. I would not be surprised if this rather blunt data-capture method fails to attract a great many contributors. I for one was not tempted, and as a consequence I cannot say whether users get to see what everyone else has written subsequent to their having submitted their comment.

Next: it is a little perplexing when a site that is purportedly global in outlook offers to translate its content into only French and English. In fact, much of the platform has the feel of a resource which was written in French and then translated. This may bespeak a certain tension between a desire on the part of sanofi-aventis to be perceived as a truly global concern and the enduring importance for the company to be recognized as having its headquarters in France. Even so, there is little excuse for the English ‘Your health’ vaccine sub-channel to carry the French spelling (‘vaccin’), nor for the clunky translation of the first video featured on the ‘Working for people’ channel: ‘Handicap: listen to them’.

The conflicting urges behind the sanofi-aventis.tv concept are best disclosed by means of a consideration of the default video on the site’s home page, the stirringly entitled ‘Sanofi-aventis [sic] Manifesto 2009’, which I offer a transcription of below:

We believe the world is an unhealthy place. In fact, two thirds of it has limited or no access to basic health care.

Well, what if instead all 6 billion of us had the health care we need to live longer, healthier lives? What is if instead of just treating diseases we focus even more on preventing them? What if we fight ignorance as hard as we fight infection?

What if a company existed for this very purpose?

Beginning today, sanofi-aventis is that company. We have taken some steps in the past, but our work is not done. And we certainly can’t behave like any other company. We have to act fundamentally differently. We have to put man before the molecule; people before pills.

Starting this instant, sanofi-aventis is officially a company that’s less about selling only [NB: ‘only’ appears in the subtitles but not the voice-over] drugs, and more about selling a way of life.  A way of life that not only practices good health, but preaches it, teaches it, and spreads it. Because health can be as contagious as any disease we’ve ever confronted. And the best way to spread health isn’t to rid the world of disease or find cures, but to avoid them altogether.

When the world has its health, it will have everything. sanofi-aventis: because health matters.

Broadly speaking, this is an upbeat, positive message and one which sanofi-aventis should be commended for wishing to associate themselves with. However, the ambiguity of the phrase I have emboldened in the transcription above – ‘selling a way of life’ – troubles me.

If we interpret ‘selling a way of life’ in a non-coercive sense as merely meaning ‘winning over the hearts and minds of individuals in order to persuade them to lead healthier lives’, then that’s fine. However, if this is the primary meaning that sanofi-aventis wishes to be associated with, why not simply say ‘promoting a way of life’ instead, thereby removing the commercially-loaded and unnecessarily allusive connotations that the phrase ‘selling a way of life’ must invariably contain?

The contradictory impulse that this choice of expression foregrounds is surely the exact opposite of the site’s aims and aspirations. Along with the rest of the pharmaceutical industry, sanofi-aventis needs to find a compelling, contemporary and frank way of expressing its self-awareness of the potential contradiction of being a commercial concern serving public health, and in acknowledging it, overturn it through its actions. It is what they do. It is what they are good at. It is something to acknowledge, not to half-conceal.

For me, however, the hammer blow is the fact that the program appearing immediately after the ‘sanofi-aventis Manifesto 2009’ on the ‘Spotlight on sanofi-aventis’ channel is ‘The First Quarter 2009 Results’, which I found surprising, to say the least. To my mind, not only should it not be there, but it also serves to threaten the value of the sanofi-aventis.tv concept altogether.

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