KEY TAKEAWAY: DTC marketing works and does not result in patients asking for medications they don’t need. Above all, DTC ads drive conversations with physicians and that alone is a key reason why doctors should be supporting DTC ads.
The idea that someone is going to see an ad for a prescription medication and ask their doctor for it ignores the fact that although patients are empowered they still follow the recommendations of their doctor(s).
Sure, there are some medications that patients may feel they need but really don’t like toenail fungus or chronic dry eye medications, but for the most part patients are pretty smart when it comes to asking for/about medications.
On the business side most drug companies can present clear and logical examples of how DTC marketing has helped launch new drugs. BMS and Merck are currently educating patients of their immune system drugs to help fight lung cancer and although some say they are promising too much the ads provide a great starting point to learn more. Is it really bad to give cancer patients hope that a treatment could help extend or save their lives?
The Real Disconnect in DTC
There is, however, a real disconnect in DTC marketing: the shift in a marketing strategy once awareness has reached a certain level. DTC marketers need to consistently measure awareness of their product within the target market. Once the audience is saturated with the brand message emphasis has to be shifted from awareness to pulling them into the brand and that should be done online.
Clients, too often, have no real plan in place to pull patients into the brand once awareness targets have been approved. Rather than rely on a stagnant website pharma companies need to think like a patient or caregiver and ask “why should I really consider your drug?”. They should use click stream analysis to see where their audience is going online and determine what other information is leading to a choice of healthcare treatments.
Finally, there is social media. While I am not a big believer in pharma using social media, I am a huge believer in pharma listening to social media conversations around the disease states they compete in as well as their brand(s). I have found that very few pharma companies use social media to listen and those that do are not prepared to act quickly on what they find.
Some DTC marketers are going to follow the current formula for heavy TV and that’s fine, but frankly at a point it provides diminishing ROI. DTC marketing has to shift to a model based on patient empathy and approach their marketing like a confused patient that has just entered a maze called the US healthcare system.