Is DTC marketing a waste of money?

The path between awareness and getting an Rx for an advertised brand is becoming increasingly complex. Reach, and frequency is irrelevant in an age when insurance companies and PBMs dictate what they will cover. DTC marketing can be effective, but it has to provide more answers instead of leading to questions.

Online health information is unregulated and often false, and we’ve left it up to online health seekers to determine what they want to believe. DTC ads don’t drive direct ROI like before because the model is broken. Even eight-figure DTC TV ad budgets don’t provide a positive ROI anymore.

There are a lot of statistics about the abundance of online ad fraud, primarily driven by programmatic advertising, but it is possible to target specific audiences online. Today all marketers need an in-depth understanding of their target audience(s). They need to understand where they are, what they do to get health information, and how they make healthcare treatment choices. Demographics, alone, don’t work anymore.

TV is great for generating awareness, but the increased frequency is a waste of money. Print ads CAN be effective if they’re placed in the right publications and provide answers before more questions arise.

DTC marketers need to challenge their agencies to laser target their audience and hold them accountable for hard metrics. It could be a combination of in-office ads with heavy online targeted ads or a variety of all channels. The issue is not generating awareness; it’s getting a patient to ask for it.

Most branded DTC departments consist of maybe 4-6 people. That’s not enough. It would help if you had people, for example, who could focus on generating online ads that provide a good ROI. This means testing ads and having a “flight” of ads that communicate the benefits of your product without “selling”.

Perhaps the most extensive wasted resource is pharma websites. They continue to read medical journals forcing people to go elsewhere to answer their questions about the product. This is a huge lost opportunity.

I have, in the past, asked why more pharma companies don’t use thought leaders to generate content for their websites. People trust doctors and having them write content that talks TO patients can be beneficial.

DTC needs to become more of a patient resource and less of a sales and promotional tool. Marketers must put themselves in their audience’s place to experience, fort, and how bad it can be to try and understand new drugs and treatments.

DTC marketers need to ditch the MBA spreadsheets and big agencies whose idea of marketing is awareness, clicks, and heavy TV.

People have changed how they make healthcare decisions, but there is too much noise. Adding more money to TV will not help any brand cut through the noise. Micromarketing can be a lot more effective but you need the people and agencies on board who understand that.