DTC advertising in a post-truth world

KEY IDEA: We live in a post-truth world. The institutions that were once trusted sources of truths are now regarded with deep skepticism by citizens and consumers alike. That’s changing the face of advertising.

Dave Trott, a legendary ad-world guru and the author of Predatory Thinking, estimates that just 4 percent of the average ad is remembered positively. Another 7 percent is remembered negatively, and a whopping 89 percent is forgotten entirely. 

Pharma, especially, hasn’t escaped the growth of distrust in established institutions. A recent Gallup Poll found that the trust in pharma companies is at an all-time low. But according to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index, nurses and doctors are the most trusted professions.

Today, consumers regard ads as a bothersome distraction at best and a hostile act of information warfare at worst. No wonder, then, that the marketing sector is delivering low single-digit growth, despite investing around $800 billion per year!

So here’s the all-important question for pharma brands: How are they supposed to reach their target audiences to drive new Rxs?

More and more companies are abandoning the old-fashioned approach of exaggerating the potential benefits of various products. That worked well back when consumers trusted brands and the institutions around them. These days, though, people can’t be taken for granted – pharma brands have to work at generating meaningful connections with patients and caregivers.

The old DTC model of throwing money at TV and just putting up a website are dated and ineffective. Pharma needs to work harder to earn the trust of skeptical patients who are more cost-conscious. Then they need to do more to keep them on therapy and educate them on why it’s important for their overall health.

Right now the media is portraying pharma as corporate America who only cares about profit. While there is some truth behind that Americans are reliant on pharma to help them stay healthy as they continue to gain weight and limit exercise. It’s become easier to take a pill to eliminate high blood pressure than to limit salt intake or exercise.

DTC ads are great at generating awareness for new products but the idea that someone is going to see an ad and ask for an Rx is myopic. Today, people who are interested in new pharma products go online to learn the pros and cons of asking for or changing to a new Rx. More and more pharma is NOT part of that conversation and money is being wasted because TV still makes a nice bullet point on someone’s resume.