Direct to Consumer: No-Name Opportunity

Marketers are using unbranded ads to get across the right messages.
Sep 01, 2006

Jeannette Park
Most DTC marketers say education has been their primary goal all along, but that often, branded messages got in the way. Now marketers are doing something about it, as evidenced by recent increases in unbranded ads. Pharma companies are producing campaigns that more clearly encourage consumers to seek information about their conditions, rather than just running out and requesting a script from their doctors.

Unlike branded ads with little information about where consumers can go for more detail, unbranded ads make a "softer sell," directing consumers to a Web site or hotline where they can learn more. For example, GlaxoSmithKline, Schering-Plough, and Bayer collaborated on the "Men's Facts" campaign to help men who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED). Instead of splashing their co-promoted brand Levitra all over the screen, the companies provide information on conditions that might contribute to ED, as well as advice on how to talk to a doctor.

Dollars continue to flow into consumer advertising, despite speculation of a downturn in spending. Some thought PhRMA's guidelines, instituted in January, would dissuade companies from growing ad budgets. But according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, $1.7 billion was spent from January to April on DTC advertising. Of that, $189 million was used to create unbranded or corporate ads, which shows that industry is planning for another year of strong investment in disease-awareness advertising. (In 2005, companies spent $590 million on unbranded ads.)

We asked four experts for their thoughts on this method of marketing.

Q: Pharm Exec: Which unbranded ad do you think works well to really target the consumer?

A: Brian Heffernan, chief marketing officer, GSW Worldwide: What I like about the new Merck campaign that promotes the HPV vaccine is the focus on belief and behavior. They are clever in getting women to talk to women and it's a powerful way to communicate because it gets some real emotional resonance—so much in this field is getting people to take action.

Q: Besides television, what other channels are effective for unbranded advertising?

A: Sharon Callahan, president, Summit Grey: Unbranded Web sites target a symptom and they create a community around it. A good example is our disease-awareness site for Menorrhagia ( When advertising on TV, it's like finding a needle in a haystack, so we've found using the Web is a cost-effective way of targeting consumers.

Q: What makes for a memorable ad?

A: John Kamp, executive director, Coalition for Healthcare Communication: Consumers always respond to good creative in advertising; it always needs to be changing because the American public's views are always changing. When "white-coat" ads (those featuring doctors) first came out, it was considered a fresh way of doing things, but the industry may have passed this zenith. Of course good ads always depend on the time, product, and target audience, but whatever companies decide to do, it better be fresh.

Q: Does unbranded advertising only work for the category leader?

A: Marty Laiks, senior vice president and director of strategy, G2 Direct and Digital: Unbranded ads are an important strategy when used directly by the right brands. These ads take a consumer-insight-focused approach, and they're not intended to get around the [PhRMA] codes and rules. They're for consumers looking for credible, unbiased information before having a conversation with their doctor.

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