Are drug TV ads dead ? It seems to me that there are less DTC TV ads in primetime and while there are some big name drugs that have come off patent there are other issues with prescription drug TV ads. There is this nagging problem with the disclosure of side effects as was pointed out by Elisabeth Rosenthal in her New York Times article entitled “I Disclose… Nothing” (January 22, 2012). “When the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s first mandated that drug makers list medicines’ side effects in order to advertise prescription drugs, there was a firestorm of protest from the industry. Now the litany of side effects that follows every promotion is so mind-numbing — drowsiness, insomnia, loss of appetite, weight gain — as to make the message meaningless.” Not to mention that more and more people are turning to their smartphones and iPads during commercials.
John LaMattina recently wrote for an article in Forbes “If the pharmaceutical industry is really concerned about being better valued by the public, it might do well to drop TV ads completely. However well-intended they are, the negatives have always outweighed the benefits. If the members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association agreed to halt TV ads, my guess is that the public’s response would be overwhelmingly positive. My sense is that they wouldn’t miss the commercials either.” While that is a bit harsh in my opinion he has a point. Of course as someone who works in R&D he would want other spending cut before R&D but drug TV ads can serve a purpose.
Marketing 101 says that we need to create awareness of new products in order to create demand and that is no different for new prescription drugs. The best and most effective way to create awareness to a wide audience is usually through TV ads. However where a lot of pharma marketers are falling down is that they have moved beyond awareness to being annoying. I mean how many Cialis commercials do we need to see ?
Then there are the health condition awareness benefits of DTC ads.
Again what is missing here is what consumers did after they became aware of new health conditions or medications but more and more research is pointing to the fact they are going online to learn about health conditions and treatment options.
Spending is out of balance
What really is telling though is the amount of money DTC marketers have been allocating to TV. According to Nielsen only 2.4% of DTC marketing was allocated to the internet. 2.4!?? There is something very wrong with that number.
More than a third of companies (39%) plan to increase their digital marketing budgets this year at the expense of other channels, according to the new Econsultancy and SoDA Digital Marketing Outlook Report 2013 and while we are seeing some increases in digital spending for pharma they still lag way behind other marketers.
With DTC marketing down 22% in 2012 and budgets being tightened I wonder if DTC marketers are being smart an allocating more money to digital while cutting TV? From the insiders I talk with some say yes but a lot are saying “they are not sure yet”. What has been so frustrating to watch is that the data shows us that more and more people are going online for health information and that for most pharma companies that involves just a product website and search marketing. Pharma companies like Millenium and Sanofi are doing more with online marketing especially in the social media space but for the most part eMarketing is a hard win for a lot of eMarketing people working within pharma.
TV ads do serve a purpose but to spend money on TV ads to where they become annoying signaling viewers it’s time to check their eMail or social media is a problem that pharma seems to be ignoring.