Time to rethink DTC ads


  • In the past, DTC ads were meant to drive new Rx’s but today the path between awareness and action has become more difficult.
  • DTC needs to be implemented by the unique characteristics of each health condition.
  • Testing TV messages may be a waste of time and money.
  • DTC needs constant measurement with effective reach a must.

When I first came into ethical pharma marketing DTC ads were quite simple. You ran TV ads based on tested messages and people went to their doctor to ask for an Rx. Today, however, the path between awareness and actually filling an advertised product has more interference.

Each health condition market is very different and nobody should be implementing anything based on what worked for a different category. MS patients, for example, are much more active on social media and they are more aware of new therapies than diabetics. For this reason, you shouldn’t rely on generic research. You need to get out of the office and listen to what your target audience wants to know to go on or switch therapies.

Many DTC managers will spend a lot of time and money testing messages. Guess what? The results you get from message testing have little to do with real-life results. There is too much interference between wanting to take action and actually taking action.

In some recent qualitative research for a client, we found that although some people were highly interested in new treatment options they often failed to act because of feedback from existing patients, higher co-pays or the anxiety of side effects in switching to or starting a new therapy.

Pharma websites metrics do indicate that people are going to product websites but that is as useless as selling snow shovels in Miami. Clickstream analysis continually shows that online health seekers go to a lot of sites to collect health information before deciding on asking for a product and after getting an Rx. A psoriasis patient told one of our groups that she was interested in trying a leading product but when she searched the brand on Twitter she read a lot of side effects and decided to stay with topical products.

Effective reach, a standard measurement for any consumer product, is not applicable for pharma products. Today effective reach in pharma is awareness leading to research (usually online) and a big decision tree with plenty of detours.

There is a wealth of potential new blockbusters coming soon. DTC ads will increase awareness but that awareness is not going to lead to new Rxs. Some savvy DTC people will show fancy charts to illustrate the link between DTC and brand objectives but that’s only because they want more money to play with.

Time to rethink DTC and fill in the blanks between awareness and action.