Medical advertising agency Cline, Davis & Mann learned that things are not what they seem when women make decisions about
medicines. A study of 1,175 females aged 18 to 60 conducted by Harris Interactive for CDM's Acuity HealthGroup may help pharma
marketers dispel widely held notions about consumer use of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) medications.
Patient, Heal Thyself
For example, the perception that most consumers first treat their conditions with an OTC product and then switch to Rx therapy
if their symptoms persist, is inaccurate. In fact, only 36 percent of the survey respondents say they do that. Another 31
percent report using only OTCs, and 30 percent say they use both OTC and Rx medications to treat their symptoms.
"Until now, there's been an assumption that once people move from an OTC to an Rx, that's it," says Mark Merriman, senior
vice-president and managing director of CDM's consumer group. "But what we see from our data is a fairly lively and dynamic
situation in the marketplace, in which we might hypothesize, given that both OTCs and Rxs are both advertising aggressively
to the consumer, that consumers are weighing both at the same moment on the menu of choices to handle their conditions."
The agency's researchers also found that disease areas have different dynamics with consumers. Patients with chronic painful
conditions such as osteo-arthritis tend to use Rx and OTC medications simultaneously. Merriman notes that, in comparison,
a majority of allergy sufferers take a classic approach to treatment, beginning with an OTC treatment, then turning to their
doctors for prescriptions if the OTC doesn't control their symptoms. In all, patient responses regarding Rx and OTC use fall
into five behavioral groupings. (See "Patient, Heal Thyself.")
CDM found that, across all conditions, product samples were viewed as the most important source for new information about
medications. "Trying a product first hand is perhaps the most reliable source of information about how well it will work,"
says Merriman. "Generally, consumers' purchase motivators are similar, regardless of the condition-either fast- or long-acting
relief of symptoms-no matter whether it's an OTC or Rx medicine.
"An understanding of the behavioral groupings of the target consumer population can be as important as understanding the demographic
profiles. When you get into the specifics of a condition and you use those five behavioral groupings to understand the ways
consumers pursue treatment, either with a combination or a progression of an OTC and Rx, it helps pharma marketers better
focus their energies in marketing."
Because women will continue to play the role of family "healthcare gatekeepers," marketers would benefit from further exploration
of women's decision making processes as they browse the aisles of their local pharmacies-with or without doctors' prescriptions.