Direct to Consumer: DTC or DTP

A guide to the strategies and subtleties of consumer marketing.
Nov 01, 2004

Ben Whisenant
Ask an average American to describe the difference between direct-to-patient (DTP) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing and you will likely receive a blank stare. Unfortunately, you'll often get a similar reaction from many pharma marketers.

"As we've asked agencies to help us develop innovative campaigns to help educate both consumers and patients, I was surprised at how often people got confused by the difference and the subtleties of DTC and DTP," says Cynthia Hogan, senior vice-president of Novartis Ophthalmics North America.

DTC and DTP Match-Up
Clearly differentiating between the two approaches can be instrumental in building more precise and complementary marketing plans. "If people were a little more precise about the definitions, it probably could help in terms of investments," says InChord Executive Vice-President Brian Hoffernan.

So, in the interest of clarity, here is a quick primer on the distinction between DTC and DTP marketing.

DTC (For Unknown Audiences) DTC advertising involves communicating information about a company, a brand or a therapeutic category to educate or motivate action. Its primary goal is to help the consumer identify himself or herself as someone who has the condition being treated, Hogan says.

DTC advertising should also notify its audience that treatments are available, encourage visits to the doctor, and promote the brand name. "If you [accomplish] these three things, you have been successful," Hogan observes.

The approach has proven effective for many products, particularly those with a broad target audience, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin). However, as a relatively young avenue of communications, there are still questions about its effectiveness.

"DTC tends to grow categories like a rising tide lifting all boats, but it doesn't necessarily grow the market share," Hoffernan points out. "There is still a lot of learning going on, and I don't think anyone feels like they have maximized this category. There is a long way to go."

DTP (They're Already Patients) DTP advertising is directed toward patients, who, by definition, are already aware of their condition and are being treated for it. Although it is almost always far less visible than DTC, it is also much less expensive. And most important, it reaches target populations that are difficult to reach through mass-media channels.

The primary objectives of DTP advertising are to encourage patients to continue taking their medication or to switch to the advertiser's product. Although some DTP "reminder" ads may appear on television or radio, the bulk of patient marketing has traditionally been accomplished through direct mail and waiting room literature. DTP has also found a new home on the web, where patients can sign up for e-mail newsletters designed to keep them motivated and compliant.

However, questions Frank Hone, executive vice-president of Healthworld Communications Group, "Is DTP underutilized today? I think the answer is clearly yes."

That's especially true in light of the lost revenue resulting from patients who stop taking their prescriptions. "I think there would be general agreement that everyone is not investing as much money as they should be in adherence programs," Hoffernan says. "And that's one area where more of a focus on DTP could pay off."

Gray Area When promotion falls on either extreme of the spectrum, it's pretty clear whether it's DTC or DTP. All parties can see that Claritin TV commercials are DTC and that a pamphlet enclosed with a patient's prescription is DTP. In the middle, however, there is a lot of gray area that has become a source of confusion and misunderstanding between companies and agencies. That can have negative repercussions for the pharmaceutical company and for the consumer. A DTC advertisement could, for example, end up driving customers to a competitor or fail to communicate essential information to existing patients.

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