Due to the ever-changing marketing and advertising environment, pharmaceutical manufacturers have had to adjust their strategies
in order to reach the desired target patient and physician market. They have since begun to shift some of their advertising
focus to non-branded, "help-seeking" (according to FDA), or disease-specific consumer advertising—a different focus compared
to the traditional, and more prevalent, product-specific advertisements.
In its 2004 "Guidance for Industry," FDA defined a non-branded communication as "one which discusses a disease or condition
and makes no mention or representation of a particular drug or device." Under this guidance, these communications are exempt
from regulation by the agency unless there is only one drug or device used in the disease/condition.
A recent example is Pfizer's "My time to quit" campaign. On its website, in addition to medical information regarding smoking
cessation, a link is provided to information about an available prescription treatment option. If the user selects the link,
they are then taken to a website for Pfizer's branded smoking cessation agent, Chantix.
Overall, spending for this ad type has fluctuated throughout the years, peaking at approximately $590 million in 2005, then
gradually decreasing to $165 million in 2008 as overall direct-to-consumer (DTC) expenditures and the economy shrunk. In 2009,
however, non-branded expenditures rose to $185 million and, according to a May Pharm Exec blog post, other research shows the popularity of web advertising is only increasing.
Desire for Information
In a December 2009 Pharm Exec article entitled "The New Four P's of Marketing," John Gardner, president and CEO of Integrative Logic, recognized the modern
atmosphere and stated, "The key to success in this new marketing landscape is a shift from a pharmaceutical-driven, push-based
model toward a pull-based model, where desire for information and education drives action on the part of consumers and medical
professionals." He further recognized companies using non-branded websites to facilitate information exchange and consumer
The above trends led to the following overarching research question: Which is more effective from a consumer-attitudinal and
behavioral-intention perspective—non-branded or branded DTC advertising? In this research, we compared non-branded to the
more prevalent branded ads on the basis of attitudes, behavioral intentions and a predefined behavior of clicking "yes" on
a hyperlink for more information.
The experiment utilized a randomized, cross-sectional design and Zoomerang's online survey software to create four surveys,
each with a different ad for the subject to view. Adult allergy sufferers (18 years old and up), who were shown allergy-focused
ads, and females between the ages of 18 and 50, who were shown oral contraceptive (OC) focused ads, were sampled. Each study
group (allergy or OC) consisted of two subgroups. The first subgroup was shown a non-branded, help-seeking ad with the second
subgroup exposed to the corresponding branded ad. The drug (Allergone for allergies and Anerim for OC) and pharmaceutical
company names (DAB Pharmaceuticals and C & C Pharmaceuticals, respectively) were fictitious and created to reduce bias. The
branded ad stimuli modeled the form of current print DTC ads, with drug information contained in each ad taken from print
ads for Yaz, a prescription OC, and Allegra-D, a prescription antihistamine/decongestant. From these branded ads, non-branded
ads were created consistent with FDA guidelines (see chart).
FDA Guidelines for Non-Branded DTC Advertising
The survey measured consumer involvement with the disease state/condition; attitude toward the ad; attitude toward the pharmaceutical
company; attitude toward the pharmaceutical industry; behavioral intentions to seek more information, discuss with their physician,
and ask for a prescription; and the predefined behavior measure (clicking 'yes' on the hyperlink) to be taken to more information
about the medication or disease state/condition.
From a consumer attitude perspective, non-branded ads compared favorably to branded ads regardless of ad type (branded/non-branded),
study group (allergy or OC), or demographic information (age, gender, and education). This suggests general consumer attitudes
toward DTC advertising have stabilized and is consistent with other research in the area.