Marketing to Professionals: The Advertorial Effect

A study suggests that advertorials are powerful marketing tools before and after a drug is approved
May 31, 2007

Johanna Schlossberg
Both branded advertisements and advertorials—"news articles" that are paid for or sponsored by marketers—can help introduce physicians to a new product. But while branded spots are still the primary communication vehicle with this audience, a new study suggests advertorials do a better job at delivering an educational message.

Unlike traditional journal ads, advertorials are not designed to hard-sell brands. They're usually written in a news magazine format, but also employ elaborate illustrations and detailed stories that aren't always used in traditional stories. Advertorials are typically scientific and educational in nature and are used to achieve one of the following objectives: communicate an unmet need within a category, increase disease state awareness, influence or change a treatment paradigm, or explain a new mechanism of action (MOA).

Many marketers purchase advertorial space prior to the launch of a drug in order to boost interest in the drug's MOA, and to educate physicians on how to use the product. However, there is less evidence to support using advertorials once a product was already approved. The Association of Healthcare Media Directors (AHMD), working with research firm The Matalia Group, initiated a study to understand the relative effectiveness of advertorials run concurrently with branded advertising, and to determine which types of advertorials resonate most with readers.

Gwen Canter
As part of the study, the AHMD mailed one of six pieces of creative (three branded ads and three advertorials) and a questionnaire to a group of 300 primary care physicians randomly selected from the AMA database. The results discussed are based on 411 responses (about 23 percent)—an above-average response rate for this audience.

Gauging Success

The results show that, in message credibility, advertorials were equally as effective as branded ads. However, advertorials were shown to be more effective than branded ads in terms of generating interest, providing valuable information, and provoking follow-up discussions with drug reps or colleagues. The findings indicate that advertorials accomplish their overall goal, which is to educate physicians. In fact, a large majority of physicians believed that advertorials helped them better understand a disease or health condition (see "Advertorial Versus Branded,").

Interest Overall, readers found advertorials more interesting than branded ads, likely due to the educational nature of their content. More than three out of four respondents (76.3 percent) were "somewhat" or "very interested" in the advertorials. Nevertheless, branded ads ranked only slightly lower in interest than advertorials: almost two thirds of readers (59.6 percent) were "somewhat" or "very interested" in the branded ads. The study suggests that physicians respond favorably to journal advertising and find both advertorials and branded ads to be of interest.

Advertorial Versus Branded
Provoke readers to action More physicians were likely to take action after reviewing an advertorial than reviewing a branded ad. More than 29 percent of respondents claimed that viewing the advertorial would prompt them to discuss this subject with a drug rep compared to 20.2 percent viewing a branded ad. Advertorials also motivated readers to search for literature online and to discuss this with their colleagues. This is not surprising, given that advertorials are typically intended to challenge current thinking.

Deliver educational value Physicians clearly understood that advertorials provide educational, rather than promotional, value. Seven out of ten physicians viewed advertorials as educational while four out of ten regarded branded ads as educational. Over half (57.5 percent) considered branded ads as mostly or somewhat promotional, and advertorials proved to be more effective than branded ads in improving readers' understanding of the target disease state or health condition (61 percent versus 55.8 percent).