Are Drug Ads in Print Journals Still Effective?

April 9, 2014
Ben Comer

Pharmaceutical Executive

If the American public could shed girth as quickly as many medical journals have in recent years, we’d all be a lot healthier.

If the American public could shed girth as quickly as many medical journals have in recent years, we’d all be a lot healthier.

Collectively, medical journals dropped over 4,200 pages in 2013, as reported by MM&M last month, a direct result of fewer ad buys in the category. Professional marketers have steadily shifted resources into digital channels and other outside-the-book physician engagement activities.

But marketers should think twice about cutting off print journal plays, at least for some physician audiences, according to Jaime Hodges, EVP, healthcare, at Phoenix Marketing International. The company has developed an assessment tool that attempts to quantify the “stopping power” of a journal ad, among other things, that can influence a physician’s behavior.

To establish a set of benchmarks for effective journal advertising, Phoenix randomly selected 50 drug ads from last year’s medical journals, and asked physicians to review them according to a set criteria. “Our methodology reconstructs a mock-journal environment to try to get as close to a real-life situation as possible,” says Hodges. Phoenix is partnered with the market research firm Medefield for physician panels, and Hodges says hundreds of physicians gave input during the ad review benchmarking process.

In addition to stopping power and recall, physicians were asked to rate ads based on whether the ad reminded them of something they already knew, gave them new information, and what actions they might take as a result of seeing the ad. Actions like “prescribing the drug, prescribing it more than they already do, seeking out more information, requesting samples, and testing their rep about the product,” says Hodges. “We’re finding that a third of the physicians will report a high likelihood – a six or a seven on a seven-point scale – to take at least one of those actions.” About a quarter of physicians “strongly agree” that a journal ad can be a good reminder, even when it’s not anchored to a new product or new indication, she says.

Other findings include:

  • Single page ads outperform two-page ads

  • The most effective ads feature images of patients

  • Journal ads more easily get the attention of specialists versus PCPs or pediatricians

  • Oncologists in particular are very receptive to journal ads

Asked about a correlation between high-performing ads and prescription uptick or other proven ROI measures, Hodges says the company hasn’t completed the validation process yet, but hopes to tie its ad review product – Journal AdPi – to drug sales in the future. “The real barrier is access to prescribing data…it’s difficult to get unless we get it from our clients.”

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