Can DTC be effective when consumers don’t trust the messenger?

UnknownPOST SUMMARY: DTC advertising can still be effective in raising awareness of treatment options, but patients are gathering more information before making decisions.

This has been a rough two weeks for pharma.  60 Minutes skews the drug industry on the cost of cancer drugs, Robert Reich writes a piece on how pharma is ripping off the public and it’s been suggested that patients don’t trust doctors because the “are in the back pocket of the pharmaceutical industry”.

What we need to better understand is how this negative media coverage is going to affect DTC marketing.  It would be foolish to carry on like nothing has happened, but then a lot of pharma marketers seem to hear and see nothing when it comes to the healthcare marketing environment.



Earlier this year I set up, for a client, a “pulse” on attitudes towards DTC ads via some online research.  While the number of people who distrust pharma has slightly risen the key change(s) seem to be the number of resources patients are using to make decisions along with their physicians.

First, it’s important to remember that we can’t apply these findings to every health condition and product.  Each audience has different needs when it comes to making healthcare decisions.  When we look for a common denominator though, it seems that patients are spending more time trying “to get to the truth around treatment options”.  What they really want to know is..


(1) What is he product and what are the side effects as it pertains to my quality of life?

(2) What are other people saying about the product? (source:social media)

(3) What does my doctor say about the product and will she, he prescribe it?

(4) How can I maintain my quality of life with my health problem? (Chronic conditions)

What has changed is that patients are looking for more sources of health information than we have seen before and searches are being done mostly on PC’s because mobile devices don’t provide the best online experience because of non-optimized mobile sites.  Sources include sites like WebMD, Quality Health, Mayo Clinic and social media.

Implications for DTC Marketers

1ne: Think multisite engagement, not just your product website.

2wo: Get closer to your audience and optimize your site to meet their informational needs.

3hree: Don’t ignore media stories that effect your marketing.  Be more transparent and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.

4our: Constantly audit social media and other health sites to listen to what people are saying about your product or health area you market in.

5ive: Don’t believe the propaganda coming from the pharma lobby groups in Washington DC.  Patients don’t so why should you?

6ix: Use patient testimonials to gain trust and improve credibility.

7even: Talk to people, don’t sell them via sterile content.

If DTC marketers don’t acknowledge patient ire directed at their companies they risk that their marketing will become more and more irrelevant.