Marketing to Professionals: The Advertorial Effect - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Marketing to Professionals: The Advertorial Effect
A study suggests that advertorials are powerful marketing tools before and after a drug is approved


Pharmaceutical Executive


Believability The believability of advertorials is a key concern to product managers and agencies, as it motivates readers to take action. Advertorials and branded ads were both considered believable, with a slight advantage for advertorials. Eighty-one percent of respondents considered advertorials to be believable, while 78 percent also considered branded ads believable.

Who Are the Doctors?

As one would expect, the study showed a differential impact of advertorials depending on the readers' practice setting, age, and patient volume.

Physicians in private practice found advertorials both more interesting and easier to read than hospital-based physicians. In addition, respondents in group settings were more likely to ask questions of company reps after seeing an advertorial as opposed to seeing a branded ad.

The study showed that more experienced physicians (20+ years in practice) were more interested in advertorials than branded ads, and were more likely to discuss an advertorial message with a sales rep than a branded ad message. However, branded ads appeared to influence their diagnosis and treatment decision more than advertorials.

Younger physicians found branded ads easier to read but indicated advertorials were more interesting. In fact, they seemed more likely to seek further information from drug reps, colleagues or the Internet after seeing advertorials.

Respondents with low patient volume (less than 61 per week) found advertorials more believable, easier to read, and more helpful in understanding the disease state or condition than branded ads. However, it was the busier respondents (100+ patients per week) who were more likely to seek further information after seeing an advertorial than their low-volume colleagues.

Read Between the Graphics

What advertorials look like is just as important as how they read, and how dense or light the graphics are is very important when choosing an advertorial style. Layout and text-to-graphics ratio can impact believability. The advertorials used in this study varied significantly in their use of text and graphics, and incorporated one of the following combinations:

  • low graphics/high text (LGHT)
  • moderate graphics/moderate text (MGMT)
  • high graphics/low text (HGLT).

LGHT—this advertorial was considered more believable than either MGMT or HGLT. Nine out of ten respondents considered the LGHT advertorial to be "very" or "somewhat" believable.

HGLT and MGMT—these advertorials were deemed easier to read. Many respondents considered the LGHT advertorial "not at all" easy to read.

Keep in mind that the ratio of text to graphics influences credibility as well as ease of reading. An advertorial can have more text than a branded ad without sacrificing readability, but in order to maintain both believability and ease of reading, an advertorial must have the right balance of text and graphics.

The decision to create one type of ad over another hinges on the communication objective. If the objective is to educate the audience on a disease state or condition or to challenge current treatment behavior, advertorials offer an advantage over branded ads. If the objective is brand awareness and differentiation, branded ads are more effective.

So how effective are advertorials? Based on the study findings, advertorials should be considered an effective part of the media mix, particularly as a means of supplementing branded messages with educational topics. In order to maximize the effectiveness of this media, it is recommended that advertorials be included as part of a fully integrated campaign. According to respondents, advertorials can be just as believable and useful as branded ads, and have a greater power to motivate readers to seek further information.

Additional research provided by the Association of Healthcare Media Directors members Linda Ciccarelli, Debbie Renner, Johanna Tompetrini, and The Matalia Group president Ned Matalia.

Johanna Schlossberg is associate media director at Cline, Davis & Mann. She can be reached at

Gwen Canter is vice president, media director at Sudler & Hennessey. She can be reached at


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