Why pharma is so in love with TV spots (truth nobody talks about)

KEY TAKEAWAY: Eyeforpharma survey’s findings show that investment in DTC may be increasing but its effectiveness is decreasing. Numerous studies have shown that DTC TV spots are less than 20% effective in driving patients into their doctors to ask for an Rx.  So the question becomes “why?” are DTC marketers so in love with TV?

I asked two senior executives to explain pharma’s love with DTC at a time when the channel is showing less of an ROI.  Here are their responses..

A former senior pharma Director got a  new job and all of her colleagues and vendors made a big farewell fuss over her. One of the biggest fusses was from her main agency, whose top account guy just said, that she was a really good client.  She responded, “to be a great client, you have to have a great agency….” and she went on to list, not all the great revenues her agency had brought in for her and not even the awards their campaigns had won, but for exotic shooting locations that cost a small fortune.  It quickly became apparent that these were all the “locations” her agency had determined were the “most cost-effective” locations to shoot her commercials. It was like something out of Condé Nast Traveler. She loved her agency because she loved the location-shooting life.

Then there is this..

A pharma company was launching a small product that would have only a short interval to make its peak sales before it was pushed off the market by generics. He was determined to do it smart with no TV, no mass media, just all digital… and targeted.” However, after submitting a great plan we didn’t hear back and then we learned why.  A senior pharma executive told him “no one ever got promoted her for having a smart, efficient plan. The way you get promoted here is to have a killer TV spot.”

I wish I could say that these are isolated incidents, but they aren’t.  While on shoot locations I have seen staff stay at expensive hotels and order expensive dinners and having the agency cover the charges so pharma executives don’t find out.  I have seen DTC people buy things through their agency, supposedly for props, and hen wind up keeping the items.  It’s more widespread than you think.

The logic of spending money on TV while digital lags is puzzling yet the latest data shows that DTC spending on digital is dismal continued to other industries.

While recollection overall has dropped, the Eyeforpharma survey showed huge growth in the significance of digital as a channel, with respondents who recalled seeing a digital ad rising from 9% in 1999 to 59% in 2016. This mirrors the demographic shift in consumption – for those who recalled seeing an ad in each survey, similar numbers recalled being engaged through TV. This suggests that the dip in[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””] DTC’s reach has less to do with TV effectiveness and more to do with how people are consuming media.[/inlinetweet]

Maybe one day pharma will change and realize the importance of digital, but for now it’s just business as usual.