Bolder is Better

Sep 01, 2008

In the last five years, more than 20 cancer-fighting products have been launched; the oncology pipeline is currently brimming, with 55 products in Phase III awaiting final results and approval; the Journal of Clinical Oncology is awash in product ads, and the exhibit floor at ASCO has never been so busy. The ranks of salespeople calling on cancer specialists have also swelled, with Genentech and Sanofi-Aventis fielding more than 500 oncology representatives each.

Meanwhile, as pipelines in other categories falter, marketers of oncology pharmaceuticals and biologics have moved to the forefront of companies' portfolios. Their advertising campaigns show a new sophistication about branding and marketing.

Moving Beyond Traditions

Today, oncology therapeutics is big business: the market for cancer drugs is forecast to reach $55 billion in 2009, making it the largest sales volume category in the pharmaceuticals/biologicals industry. What's more, the oncology pipeline is the richest in the industry by far, and IMS reports that by 2010, oncology will account for some 30 percent of all launches. With such a wealth of new products, successful positioning—first line vs. second line, etc.—could spell the difference between a blockbuster and an also-ran. To create that difference, advertisers must move beyond oncology's traditions of mechanistic images and scientific themes, and develop innovative approaches to appeal to the US audience of more than 7,000 office-based medical oncology and hematology/oncology specialists.

To learn how companies are making that appeal, Flashpoint Medica examined a sample of 37 ad campaigns running in 2007 and 2008 to explore current trends in advertising and branding. The survey discovered five major approaches that dominate advertising and branding campaigns in oncology today. Some of the approaches that were once staples of oncology advertising—such as the use of scientific/mode-of-action visualization—seem to be on the way out, while others are being used more often. In aggregate, the data paint a picture of a category in transition. Let's take a detailed look at these approaches and trends.

Trend #1: Data as branding

Market research typically shows oncologists to be data-driven pragmatists, often skeptical of advertising claims. While practically every cancer drug advertisement today features data prominently, some make it the focal point of the entire campaign.

For example, the campaign for Erbitux (cetuximab), Imclone/Bristol-Myers Squibb's head and neck cancer drug, presents evidence of improvement in overall survival (OS, the "gold standard" in measuring efficacy in oncology). In addition, a Kaplan-Meier (K-M) curve (its double lines drifting downward over time) is perched atop a large pile of patient files and clinical publications, representing how many patients were still alive as the study continued. The headline reads: "Survival without Compromising Delivery of RT [radiation therapy]." Copy claims feature "survival" and "reduction in risk of death." The tagline is "Strength in Data."

With some tumor types, however, survival data won't be available for many years (as in cancers with long survivorship, such as breast cancer), or is difficult to obtain methodologically. In these cases, other data take center stage. An Arimidex ad, in the form of an advertorial, features a graph showing that, on average, patients taking the drug had a greater duration of disease-free survival—a common end-point in adjuvant chemotherapy. Pfizer's Aromasin (exemestane) ad outlines the letters "e" and "r" in the word "brighter"—referring to the patient's future—to highlight the estrogen receptors that the product blocks. The rest of this all-copy ad describes disease-free survival data, delivered in bullet points rather than advertorial prose.

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