So what should DTC marketers be focusing on?


  • DTC ads, especially on TV, are ineffective in driving new Rx’s.
  • DTC still has a use but ads, alone, are not to lead to patients asking for a brand.
  • Digital has to be deeply integrated into DTC marketing.
  • TV dollars need to be reallocated to digital (pull).

DTC, on TV, is not effective. Please read that again because, as I write this, a pharma company is putting the final touches on a multi-million dollar campaign for new TV ads even though they lead the market within the category.

Pharma marketers have become experts at correlating TV ads spend with brand objectives, but their science and logic are highly questionable. I can show a correlation between breathing and weight gain with the right data, but that doesn’t make it right.

Do DTC TV ads have a place in the marketing mix?

Yes. TV is still great for generating awareness, but prescription drugs need a lot more than awareness to generate new Rx’s. Your target audience is going online and using social media to learn about your brand’s side effects, costs, and other patients’ experiences.
While the FDA is set to study influencer marketing within pharma, the key question is “will patients make a treatment decision after reading social media or blog posts from influencers?”. My research tells me “no”. They will go deeper and do more research, depending on the products and their cost.

Why are pharma websites ignored?

If someone comes to your product website, they are your target audience. This is someone who has raised their hand and said, “I want to know more,’ yet pharma websites continually drop the ball here.

Online health seekers are smarter and savvier about how to search the web for treatment options. For example, searching for drug side effects might show a pharma website in the top search results, but people are skipping product websites because the language is just too hard to read. On the other hand, sites like WebMD and the Mayo clinic have easy to understand side effects.

Then there is a content strategy to address headlines in the news. By the time pharma reacts, the buzz wave has subsided. Pharma websites should be the first choice to get updated health information, but processes are antiquated to write and post website updates.

When it comes to social media and pharma marketing, it seems that most are just testing the waters. Social media is not a broadcast channel; it’s a conversation, and pharma is scared to death of talking with patients.

Pharma product websites have to evolve to include a lot more health information especially from credible third parties like thought leaders and established medical institutions. Programmatic ads and spending more on Google is not going to lead to successful brand goals.

Finally, the other issue that is challenging pharma is that there are too many “inbred” pharma people leading the charge. Unfortunately, they have been beaten down and now just good cube dwellers trying to survive in matrix organizations that go out of their way to ignore risk.

DTC marketers should be thinking more like patients and less like pharma employees. New talent is needed to carry them over the digital marketing threshold but ten again the “organization” is their own worst enemy.