Mechanism of Action Videos, commonly known as MOA Videos, are videos that visually explain how a drug or device acts to affect a physiological condition. [Source]
These videos are typically produced by healthcare agencies on behalf of their clients, the pharmaceutical companies that develop and/or sell the drugs. They’re regularly used to:
- Support pharma marketing at trade show booths
- In-person by pharma reps
- In email, and
- Other online marketing.
Audiences for these videos are healthcare providers, doctors, and sometimes patients.
The following guide is designed for project and account managers as well as producers. It will walk you through the basic steps in producing an animated MOA video and provide some tips for avoiding mistakes with costly (or just plain annoying) consequences.
Common MOA Video Animation Styles
An animated MOA video can be produced in many different styles, but there are a few that are more popular than others:
Animated Whiteboard MOA Videos – These videos are produced in the style of animation that was initially developed by the The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts. In the first RSA videos, live-action video techniques were used to make it appear as if a hand is quickly drawing elements onto a whiteboard to accompany audio narration.
Today, whiteboard animation has come a long way. At IdeaRocket, we produce whiteboard animation digitally, which allows for not only for the effect of a hand drawing elements onto a whiteboard, but also for those elements to come to life and move around. The artwork is still drawn by hand, but on a tablet so that it can be easily integrated into a digital workflow.
Most of the industry uses the term “whiteboard animation” to describe this style, but sometimes it is also referred to as RSA video, RSA animation, quick-draw video, fast-sketch video, or fast draw video.
Whiteboard is a popular style of animation for MOA videos because of it’s clean and academic feeling, as well as being more affordable than many other styles. Additionally, making changes later on in production is easier to do in a whiteboard animation than more complex styles.
Learn More About Whiteboard Animation:
3D MOA Videos – 3D animation is also a very popular choice for an MOA video. Although it’s significantly more expensive than whiteboard animation, its ability to convey space and depth makes it popular for explaining scientific topics. Curved shapes, such as molecules and cells, can look attractive in 3D. Additionally, the use of strong contrasting colors makes highly technical stories easier to follow.
2D Animation MOA Videos – Less commonly used for MOA videos but still a viable option, is 2D animation. 2D animation techniques can be used to create fluid motion as well as appealing and mature characters. If your video will include scenes with characters (rare for MOA videos but occasionally used when also discussing patients and prescribing) 2D animation can be a good fit.
Additionally, 2D animation techniques can be used to enhance whiteboard animation:
There are four primary cost drivers when creating animated MOA videos:
- Style of Animation
- Length of Video
Having a rough idea of all of the above will help you get a solid estimate from your animation studio to build your budget. But it’s important to understand these cost drivers even after the initial budgeting, as creative projects can often switch direction during production. A good studio will explain cost implications of decisions throughout the process, but it never hurts to be aware of the factors that can potentially change the costs involved in a project.
Style of Animation – We discussed a few different styles of animation above. In order from least to most costly they would loosely rank: whiteboard animation, 2D animation, 3D animation. However, it’s not quite that straight forward. Each style can be produced with varying levels of complexity, which require varying levels of skill to produce. The more complicated the design and animation is, the more budget it will require to produce.
Length of Video – Longer videos require more assets to be developed and more hours of labor to animate, so naturally the length of the video will be a cost driver. The shorter you can get your script, the more affordable your video will be to produce.
But aside from budget, there are other great reasons to try to keep your video as brief as possible. While budgeting your video, consult with your team to figure out how much time the message will need.
Revisions – MOA videos go through a rigorous medical and legal approval process. Later on in this guide we’ll discuss some tips for making the process as smooth as possible, but even in the best case scenario, you will likely require multiple rounds of revisions to get your video approved.
If you’re working with an outside studio, ask them how many revisions their quotes include. Depending on your (or your client’s) review process you may need to budget more for reviews. If this is your first MOA video, ask your colleagues how many iterations previous MOA videos have gone through to get an idea of what you might be facing.
Deadlines – If the project is given enough lead time, deadlines will not likely be a factor in budgeting. However, if a project starts late or has a very aggressive deadline, it might require overtime to complete on time. Communicate any important dates to your animation team and be sure that they are able to meet them.
Tips for Getting Estimates & Selecting an Animation Provider: Once you have a general idea of the above four cost-factors, you shouldn’t have any trouble reaching out for quotes from animation providers.
It’s important to note that many animation studios will not be used to the rigorous review process that an MOA video entails. Before choosing a studio to partner with:
- Be sure they have worked with healthcare clients in the past
- Ask to review examples of their previous MOA work
- Ask them what their process is for review and revision
- Find out how they would handle scheduling complications resulting from legal (such as a project being put on hold for several weeks in the scripting stage) or a deadline being bumped up unexpectedly.
- Check references
It’s best to work with a studio that has worked with your agency or your client in the past, as they should have a stronger understanding of the process. If possible, ask your colleagues for referrals or recommendations.
Word of caution when reaching out for whiteboard animation quotes: You should be very very cautious of a studio charging under $10k/minute for a whiteboard video. Whiteboard animation can be produced very cheaply – and very poorly. Aside from an upfront loss in visual quality, many of these studios outsource the work overseas. Producing an MOA video requires very clear and meticulous communication about medical details, phrasing, and terminology.
The amount of lead time needed for a project will depend on the studio you’re working with, the style of animation, and your legal review process. You’ll want to start pre-production (conceptual & scripting work) several months in advance of your final deadline.
If you can afford to, leave a month and a half between the wrap date of your production and the launch date of your video in case legal reviews require more iterations to clear than you initially planned.
Work directly with your studio when building a timeline for production. Find out how long they will need for the actual animation production, and then add in time for reviews.
You’ll want to make sure each of the following deliverables are cleared through legal (and in some cases, more checkpoints might be desirable):
- Script (should include all voice over and a description of the visuals, including any text that will appear on screen)
- Storyboard (should include rough art)
- Finished Animation
The medical / legal review process usually takes about 7 days, and is sometimes required to be submitted on a specific day of the week. If this is the case for your company or client, make sure to give your team enough time to review and request changes before submitting to legal.
Below is a sample timeline for storyboard development, assuming that both an agency team (ABC Agency) and a client brand team (XYZ Pharma) will need to review the boards, and that items must be submitted for legal review by 10am on a Tuesday:
Production – Organizing the Team and Giving Feedback
The easiest way to cut down on the number of iterations (and resources) a project goes through, is to have clear and consolidated communication with all of your stakeholders. One point person should be in charge of gathering feedback on each work-in-progress deliverable and delivering it to the video production team to implement.
To avoid lengthy retakes and overrunning deadlines, all marketing and brand team feedback should be consolidated and addressed before assets are submitted for legal review. Even very small creative changes (such as altering phrasing in a voice over) can cause legal tangles.
Meetings are a good way to gather feedback (and decisions) from multiple individuals at once, but not always possible. In those cases, giving deadlines for feedback is the best way to keep the project on schedule.
There are some great video review tools available for giving and tracking notes. A few popular apps are wipster.io and frame.io. These tools are fantastic for gathering feedback from multiple teams; if possible, get your stake holders to weigh in using these note-giving systems.
However, please note that both tools can really only be used when gathering creative feedback from marketing teams. Submitting assets for legal review will require a specific format, that varies slightly from company to company.
Shepherding Your Video Through Legal & Regulatory Review
The material below is intended for informational purposes only. It contains no legal advice or guidance, only tips for managing production alongside a team of legal professionals.
If you’ve produced an MOA video before, you’re likely familiar with the challenges in clearing the video through the legal review process. If you’re preparing to produce your first MOA video, trust us when we say that if allowed to get out of hand, a video can go through dozens of submissions to legal before being approved.
A seemingly endless amount of revisions from legal can drain your team and draw out production timelines, but there are a few things that producers and account managers can do to help avoid this.
Below are a few tips that we’ve compiled to help make this process as smooth and efficient as possible:
- Know Your Submission Guidelines (and Communicate Them Early in the Process)
- Avoid Late Creative Changes
- Understand Common Items That Get Flagged For Revision
- Get the ISI Approved Separately
- Beware of Copy/Paste Errors
Know Your Submission Guidelines. Every company’s review process will be a little bit different. Frequently a legal team will require storyboards and other assets to be submitted in a very specific format ( i.e. a certain number of panels per page, portrait vs landscape page layout, specific font point size, etc.). It’s best to find out exactly what the format is and share an example with your team at project kickoff.
Although boards can always be reformatted, doing so creates unnecessary work and increases back and forth between marketing and production teams. Every time formats are changed or elements are shuffled around there is possibility for human error to occur.
Likewise, there may be requirements for the completed video must be submitted. Some legal teams are okay to reviewing videos hosted on sites like Vimeo, others require a video file. If they require a file, make sure your team is prepared to deliver that way.
This is particularly important to let your team know about if assets need to be submitted for review at a particular time during the week. If the team finds out about requirements late, they might not be able to meet the ask and you’ll have to wait for the next review window.
Of course, having to reformat video or storyboards isn’t the end of the world. It won’t kill a project or cause it to go over budget, but it’s certainly nice to avoid if you can.
Avoid Late Creative Changes. We often say that animation production is much like building a house: you start with the foundations (script), build the walls (art), and then put up the roof (animation). You don’t want to be still tweaking the script while artwork is being produced, just like you wouldn’t want to be making alterations to the foundation while you’re putting up the walls.
In a project with strict legal reviews, making sure each production item is locked before moving forward is even more important. A legal review of the script (which can take up to a week in many cases) is almost meaningless if a creative team decides to make adjustments to the narration down the line.
Not all changes will cause legal complications, things like the color of a character’s shoes wouldn’t likely set off any legal/regulatory alarms (unless they start to look like a patented product, but that’s a whole other can of worms…) but something about how the risks of a drug are explained most definitely will. See the subsequent section below for some tips on recognizing items that are commonly flagged. .
The best way to avoid late changes is to make sure that everyone that needs to weigh in (both agency creative as well as client brand teams) have ample time to review an asset before it’s sent to legal, and to make sure they are aware that changes after it is approved could cause complications.
Understand Common Items That Get Flagged For Revision. It never hurts to know more about what the regulations are, and by understanding what aspects of a video are most sensitive, you can guide your team to avoid making late changes on those components.
Gaining a high-level understanding of what the legally problematic areas of pharma marketing are might be easier than you think.
The FDA has released a short video to help advertisers understand the most common pitfalls:
Beyond the videos, helpful top-level information can be found on the OPDP section of the FDA website, or in their Bad Ad Program page.
You can contact the FDA directly to ask questions. We did it for the purposes of writing this guide and are happy to say that the representatives we spoke to were helpful and friendly.
Although much of the information in these links is related to consumer-facing promotional materials, many of the same regulations apply to materials catering to a professional healthcare audience as well.
Here are a few common violations the FDA lists in the above linked video:
- Overstating a Drug’s Efficacy
- Omitting or Minimizing Information About Risks
- Unsubstantiated Superiority Claims
- Unsubstantiated Claims of Efficacy or Safety
Another item of importance (noted in the above video) is the “Fair Balance Requirement” a definition of which can be found on the FDA’s Drug Advertising Glossary of Terms:
“The law requires that product claim ads give a “fair balance” of information about drug risks as compared with information about drug benefits. This means that the content and presentation of a drug’s most important risks must be reasonably similar to the content and presentation of its benefits.
This does not mean that equal space must be given to risks and benefits in print ads, or equal time to risks and benefits in broadcast ads. The amount of time or space needed to present risk information will depend on the drug’s risks and the way that both the benefits and risks are presented.”
As a producer/account manager, understanding how to meet this requirement likely is beyond the scope of your responsibilities (one of the reasons a legal team is required to review promotional materials before they go into use.) However, there is still a key take from all this in terms of managing a project: any time a creative team alters the way a drug’s efficacy or risks are presented in the MOA video, it is likely to be flagged for additional adjustments when it goes back into legal review.
Whenever possible, try to steer the team away from making changes to these aspects of a video after they have already been approved.
Get the ISI Approved Separately. The Important Safety Information (aka ISI) for an MOA video is a collection of information about the most important risks of a drug. It’s required by law to accompany the MOA video, and will be under heavy scrutiny in the legal review process. It usually appears as scrolling or sliding text at the end of the video and has very little (or nothing) to do with creative presentation or animation aside from possibly font choice or decorative lettering in the titles.
If possible, find out if the legal team can review and revise the ISI separate of the animated video. This would allow the reviews and revisions to begin almost immediately after script approval (while the artwork is still being drawn up) so when the animation is completed, it can simply be attached at the end for final review.
Look Out for Copy/Paste Errors in Text. Notes and feedback for MOA videos often comes from multiple teams and individuals. Every company and agency has a different method of how they like to communicate internally, and it’s important that when the notes get to the production team they’re fully intact.
Large chunks of technical information are often copied and pasted from one document to another as it changes hands. For the sake of accuracy and to eliminate human error, animators will copy this text directly into the programs they animate with.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on special characters, footnotes, and subscript as you pass information between teams, as they’re often prone to errors when being copied from one program to another.
Even though making an MOA video sounds like an onerous process, it can also be highly rewarding. Careful planning and management can make production run more smoothly for everyone involved.
Good luck with your production!
Top Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash