Is DTC effective?

According to a study in the Journal for American Board of Family Medicine “respondents (76%) said they were likely to ask a health care provider about advertised drugs; 26% said they had already done so. Among the 26% of respondents who talked to a health care provider about a specific prescription drug they saw advertised, 16% said they received a prescription for the advertised drug. But is this really true across all DTC?

The debate around the effectiveness of DTC is still very active. I’ve seen and researched cases where some products have really benefitted from DTC while others have not. DTC marketers who believe that DTC is essentially the same as before the pandemic are failing to recognize significant shifts in patient behavior regarding prescription drugs.

Any discussion around DTC should acknowledge the following:

1ne: DTC is more effective for some health categories than others.

2wo: Consumers are not blindly going to ask for/about an advertised drug. Online research is used to evaluate new prescription drugs.

A great example of poorly timed DTC is Humira. In an era of a pandemic, are psoriasis patients really going to ask for a drug that may compromise their immune system? On the other hand, research shows that people may be more depressed because of the pandemic restrictions, and advertising new treatments for depression may resonate with the audience.

The other variable that has increased at a rapid rate is telehealth. During the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50%, compared with the same period in 2019, with a 154% increase in visits noted in surveillance week 13 in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. How do physicians feel about patients asking for a new drug via a telehealth visit, and can the prescriber evaluate whether a patient is a good candidate or a new drug?

Is TV the best channel?

The first question that any DTC marketer needs to answer is, “how big is my audience?”. Larger patient populations benefit from TV, while smaller ones will benefit from more targeted advertising. When consumers stay at home amid broadly disruptive events, their media consumption rises nearly 60% — and even more in some cases, according to a Nielsen data analysis.

With an approximate patient population of around 200k, one must wonder why BMS is advertising Opdivo on TV versus more targeted channels but their profit margin, per patient, is high so, why not?

The other challenge, which most DTC marketers avoid, is that awareness of a new treatment does not drive conversion. Today it’s a multichannel approach.

What happens when someone is interested in a new DTC product?

The old belief is that patients who are interested in new treatments ask their doctor about them. That belief is out the window. Today people go online to learn more about the drug. What are the side effects? Is it covered by my insurance? What are other patients saying about it? These are all potential disruptions to DTC marketing that have to be taken into account.

While pharma product websites stop the train for online health seekers, the vast majority fail to provide the information needed to convince people to ask for an advertised product. Trust is obviously an issue but what I have observed is that content too often is too complicated and reads like a medical journal to most online health seekers.

Fair Balance in TV is a waste of time

The FDA can be myopic when researching how consumers view and react to DTC. Fair balance in TV ads is a waste of time because consumers will not make a treatment decision based on a TV spot alone. They’re going to go online where they can read the safety warnings that too often than not scare them because they lack context. For example, what percentage of patients experienced suicidal thoughts?

The FDA should be engaging DTG Research to ask the question, “what are people doing when they are interested in an advertised drug?” rather than assuming that they’re running to their doctor to ask for an Rx.

DTC advertising is NOT going away, but DTC marketers will be held to better analytics when it comes to ads. Management really wants to know if they can quantify DTC ads against brand objectives. More and more awareness is not a key metric.