Media Spend Trends: Change the Channel

Drug marketers still spend lots of money. But they aim at PhRMA loopholes.
Apr 01, 2006

It's not closing time, but it does seem like the nine-year, direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising happy hour is winding down. PhRMA's new Guiding Principles are dimming the lights, and television, the most glamorous and visible media channel for DTC, will have to turn down the volume.

"Reminder ads are gone," says Ken Johnson, senior vice president, PhRMA. Reminder ads—quickie TV spots urging viewers to ask their doctor about a drug—are an early casualty of PhRMA's decision to encourage member companies to make big voluntary changes in the way they advertise prescription drugs. These changes, called Guiding Principles on Direct-to-Consumer Advertising, were announced at the American Legislative Council's annual meeting last August, and went into effect in January. Twenty-seven of PhRMA's 34 members have signed on so far.

Why the change? Johnson says it was, in part, a case of "govern or be governed." Legislative efforts to curtail DTC marketing efforts were increasing at both the state and federal levels (see "50 5 2005," Pharm Exec, September 2005). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) was poised to call for a DTC moratorium for all prescription drugs less than two years old.

"Politics certainly figured into it," says Johnson, "but we were also listening to consumer and healthcare professionals who wanted DTC to be more educational. Ads are already taking on a more serious tone and tenor, and there are less critical rumblings as well."

Beyond the demise of reminder ads, David Gascoigne, head of promotion management at IMS Management Consulting, predicts DTC will be less reliant on TV.

"The days of the 100-million-dollar television campaign are gone," Gascoigne says. "Where DTC was once heavily skewed toward television and mass media campaigns, we're now seeing a greater emphasis on print advertising and a greater focus on disease education, medication adherence, and consistency. Mass media adverting brought consumers in, now marketers have to concentrate on keeping them."

Keeping patients on their prescribed drugs continues to vex pharmaceutical marketers. It's a challenge no mass marketing campaign, no matter how costly, has been able to adequately address thus far.

"Mass marketing is all about reaching your target as frequently as possible," says Elizabeth Boehm, principal analyst at Forrester Research's Health Care and Science division. "You can buy your way in. When you're doing compliance marketing, you can buy impressions but can't buy your way into participation."

Script Trip

Pfizer on Top
A funny thing happens on the way to the pharmacist, according to industry analysts: The prescription and the patient often don't get there. "Part of the challenge is to do research up front," Boehm says. "Pharmaceutical companies have less data on what happens between obtaining a prescription and actually taking the medication. We need to find this out without becoming too intrusive."

One approach, Boehm suggests, is to shift more dollars from mass media to micromedia campaigns. "You're dealing with a smaller universe when you're doing compliance marketing," she says. "This is an area requiring experimentation in order to make an impact down the road."

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