Direct to Consumer: DTC Marketers Tune In - Pharmaceutical Executive


Direct to Consumer: DTC Marketers Tune In
As consumers watch and read less, radio advertising gets heard.

Pharmaceutical Executive

Stephen Friedman
If the world of DTC marketing were a party, the media would bring different personalities to the affair. Television brings a certain sex appeal to the marketing soiree, while print is the steady, dependable partner. And the internet arrived as the new—accessible—kid on the block. Radio, meanwhile, has been "all dressed up with no place to go," since it became available to DTC marketers in1997, but that is changing.

In the last few years, DTC marketers have spent more money than ever on radio advertising. Healthcare companies spent 58 percent more on the medium in 2003 than in 2002, according to Competitive Media Reporting/LNA. And the data for the first five months of 2004 show that trend continuing, with radio expenditures up 54 percent over the same period last year.

Forgotten Stepchild Why are pharma marketers suddenly interested in radio? The traditional ways marketers reach consumers with healthcare messages are becoming less effective and more expensive. Network viewing has declined precipitously over the past decade thanks to the rapid growth of cable, satellite TV, and digital video recorder technology such as TiVo, which gives viewers the ability to easily skip commercials. Newspaper and magazine readership are down as well, a natural by-product of increased competition for consumers' time.

Some observers have called radio the "forgotten stepchild" because it is an underused medium in the healthcare marketing mix. Most marketers attribute that to the difficulty they have in developing radio copy that does not overemphasize a product's risks. TV commercials can show a smiling patient walking or biking through a field of flowers while the announcer is reading the fair-balance statement. But pharma marketers have overcome that obstacle by using radio as an outlet to run unbranded campaigns, reminder ads, and compliance messaging.

Consumers Attention
What Radio Has to Offer Recently, pharma marketers have moved into radio because it offers some attributes that make it a good fit for their messages.

Share of voice. Some companies that have run radio campaigns recently have found that the lack of competition allows them to garner a larger share of voice with consumers. Of course, this advantage will diminish if DTC radio spending trends continue to increase, but it remains a viable competitive edge for marketers whose competitors are not yet exploiting the tactic.

More time. A standard length radio spot provides advertisers twice as much time—60 seconds compared with TV's 30-second commercials—to make their pitch. That gives companies more time to tell their story and list resources, such as a a toll-free number or website where listeners can find more information.

Targeted. Radio allows pharma companies to reach specific demographic targets. For example, in an effort to reach African-American consumers, GlaxoSmithKline advertised its HIV therapy Combivir (lamivudine/zidovudine) in urban markets.

Low cost. Producing a radio ad and buying the media time costs a fraction of doing the same with television and other national media.Companies can also save money by running campaigns that capitalize on the popularity and credibility on-air "talent" has with their listeners. Those radio personalities can prerecord or read live commercials at a much lower premium than screen star spokespersons demand.

Although DTC marketers have not yet used this powerful selling opportunity, OTC marketers are experimenting with it. Procter & Gamble, for example, tested a live-read campaign for NyQuil in 2003, and the test's success prompted the company to launch a more extensive campaign this year. P&G also employed on-air talent to promote its ThermaCare heat-wrap product.

Fast production. With no elaborate sets or costumes needed, radio ads can be produced on the fly. That quick turn-around allows pharma marketers to capitalize on moving opportunities. For example, an allergy treatment manufacturer can present live copy on days when the pollen count is high, and a flu vaccine manufacturer can react quickly when an outbreak occurs.

Mobility. Unlike TV, radio's audience listens all day—in the car, on the way to work, at the office, and en route to the doctor or pharmacy. Its ability to follow increasingly mobile consumers throughout the day means radio is ubiquitous in a way no other medium can be, especially given the long hours many Americans spend in their cars. It also puts advertisers in a place where they have an opportunity to get in the last word before consumers make a purchasing decision.

Orchestrating the Mix The ever-changing media landscape dictates the use of multimedia platforms to maximize reach and impact. Indeed, as part of the mix, most pharma marketers see radio as a way to boost return on investment for big-budget media schedules. Crossmedia, a New York-based marketing agency specializing in media planning and buying, provided the following examples to illustrate this point:

(1) A company spending $10 million on a network TV advertising campaign, with an adult (25-54) target, will attain a reach (the percentage of people in the target group who saw the commercial at least once) of 78 percent. But by combining spot radio in the top 20 markets with network TV on a ratio of 20 percent radio and 80 percent TV, the advertiser's reach would increase to 85 percent in the top 20 markets. If the advertiser were to add print to the mix, with 60 percent of the budget going to TV, 20 percent to print, and 20 percent to spot radio, the reach increases to 93 percent in the top 20 markets.

(2) A company spending $10 million on a print campaign in magazines reaching the same 25-54 age target will garner a reach of 46 percent. By shifting 20 percent of the print budget to spot radio, the advertiser's reach grows to 64 percent.

Despite increasing fragmentation of media audiences, radio consumption is expected to continue to rise. And as long as pharma marketers aim to improve their DTC advertising return on investment and supplement the fall-off from network TV and print schedules, they will continue to turn their attention—and dollars—to this medium.

Stephen Friedman is VP of healthcare marketing for Interep Innovations Marketing Group. Contact him at (212) 896-8009 or


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