Direct-to-consumer advertising officially becomes a "tweenager" this August—and, oh my, how it has grown. DTC was officially
born in 1997 when FDA gave the green light to companies to advertise their drugs to consumers. In the first year, pharmaceutical
marketers bounded onto the scene and spent more than $1 billion. Years passed. Debates ensued. Patients learned more about
drugs. And, yes, spending grew. The latest available figures for 2006 show that the industry spent $4.8 billion on DTC advertising,
a 13 percent increase over 2005 and the second year of double-digit growth.
Television is still the darling when it comes to DTC dollars, accounting for $2.7 billion of the total spend. But magazine
advertising grew the most, rising 24 percent in 2006 over the previous year. As much as consumers still love watching the
tube—or HDTV on flat screens—the numbers indicate the growing emphasis pharma is placing on the printed word to reach healthcare
"There is definitely an extra feeling of credibility conveyed by magazines," says Tim Kelly, practice leader of promotion
management for IMS Health. "There's something tangible that resonates with people with print advertising. It's something they
can hand to their doctor."
Whereas 10 years ago a pharmaceutical company's "being on the Web" meant having a prescription insert (PI) posted online,
life science marketers are now fully engaged in the medium and are having success. The Internet has become the first touch
point at two crucial moments in the healthcare decision-making process: Consumers and patients very often go online after
seeing a direct-to-consumer drug ad or after the doctor hands them a diagnosis.
Fine Print: Magazine DTC Spending Outpaces TV
Twenty-seven percent of today's online dollars for patients are spent on educational "sponsorships," according to the benchmarking
consultancy TGaS Advisors. (Web sponsorships are primarily defined as an ongoing deal with a third-party site—like WebMD—involving
some tool or editorial content.) Two-thirds of these deals achieved or exceeded their target goals in 2006, says Stephen Gerard,
founder of TGaS Advisors, and investment is expected to increase in 2007 and 2008. Other areas of investment include banner
ads and paid search, which when taken with sponsorships, make up 61 percent of the total online DTC budget.
Search-engine marketing is still in vogue, but the opportunity there is dwindling. Years past saw pharma companies buying
up keywords on major search engines like Google and Yahoo! and focusing on search-engine optimization. Companies that weren't
early movers were early losers.
"Search terms are like oceanfront property," Gerard says. "There's only so much of it—and most of it has been bought up. Where
you once had pharmaceutical companies buying 20 or 30 search terms and misspellings associated with the name of their drug,
you're now seeing them buy 300, 400, 500 'lifestyle' terms associated with the drug." These lifestyle terms can include any
words that are closely related to or associated with a disease or drug.
As in previous years, paid online banner advertising has remained a staple in the marketing mix as biopharmaceutical manufacturers
continue to find the Web a good place to reach their target audience. The more complex drugs become, the more likely consumers
and patients will spend time searching the Web for health information. And as drugs on the whole become more specialized,
particularly with targeted therapies in oncology, this online marketplace of healthcare information is expected to deliver
even more value.